Eggplant, Basil and Parmesan Bread Pudding with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

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1 tablespoon softened butter
12 ounces sourdough bread, cut into one inch thick slices
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
3 tablespoons peeled and minced garlic
1 cup chopped sweet red onion
1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
2 cups grated parmesan cheese, divided
6 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
8 large eggs
2 1/2 cups rich vegetable
salt and freshly ground pepper
Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
6 medium plum tomatoes (about 2 ounces each), washed and cored
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Butter a 9x9x2-inch baking pan or 3 quart soufflé dish. Preheat grill or broiler. Brush both sides of bread with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toast bread on a grill or under broiler until crisp on both sides. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.

Brush eggplant slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill or roast in a 375 degree preheated oven until tender and lightly browned. Cut into one inch cubes and set aside. In a large skillet, sauté; garlic and onion in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and golden. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, eggplant, onion mixture, tomatoes, 1 cup of cheese and basil and mix well. In a separate large bowl, whisk eggs with broth and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with eggplant mixture and stir well.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until custard is set and pudding is puffed. Remove from oven and cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut each plum tomato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 3 sections lengthwise. Place the tomato sections, skin side down and evenly spaced, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes in the preheated oven and roast for 3 hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Chop the tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces. In a 3-quart stainless steel bowl, vigorously whisk together the olive oil with the red wine vinegar. Add the tomatoes and thyme, and stir to combine. Adjust the seasoning, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature until needed.

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