Gratin of Eggplant, Roasted Peppers, and Garlic

2 medium eggplant (a pound each), unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
freshly ground pepper
1 large roasted and peeled bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs of choice, (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup grated monterey jack cheese or fontina
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the washed and dried eggplant into 1/4-inch thick rounds on the diagonal. If middle slices are much larger, halve them, to make slices close to uniform size. Toss the eggplant with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, minced garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Spread on a baking sheet. Toss the whole unpeeled garlic cloves in a bit of the remaining olive oil and strew alongside the eggplant.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the eggplant and garlic is soft to the touch but still holds its shape. Set aside to cool. Carefully peel the garlic cloves and toss them with the roasted pepper strips, the remaining olive oil and salt, a few grinds pepper, and half the mixed herbs. Choose a decorative gratin or baking dish that will heighten the presentation at table. (I used an 8" x 12" x2" oval) Spread the tomato sauce over the bottom.

Stack the eggplant on end in an almost upright row, packing and overlapping the slices close together to fill the dish. Tuck the whole garlic cloves and pepper strips in between the eggplant slices and sprinkle with the Jack cheese.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake uncovered another 10 minutes until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle remaining herbs over all and serve.

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