Eggplant “Parmigiana” with Saffron Custard.

Adapted from Deborah Madison, this recipe gives a face-lift to an old standby. Meaty eggplant slices are bathed in a zippy tomato sauce and then blanketed with a velvety saffron-scented custard.
Tasty? Yes.
Eggplant Parm “just like Grandma used to make”? Not exactly!
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
2 tablespoons tomato paste
28 oz can imported Italian tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
3 pounds eggplant
Pinch saffron threads
1/2 cup ricotta
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and anise and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute longer. Add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quite thick. Add more salt and pepper to taste and stir in the basil.
Meanwhile, slice the eggplant about 1/2-inch thick and lightly brush both sides of each slice with olive oil. Arrange the slices on baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the slices and continue baking until the eggplant is lightly browned, another 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees.
Dissolve the saffron threads in 1/4 cup hot water. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, and milk, along with salt and pepper to taste. Add the saffron with its liquid. Generously oil a large, shallow casserole or baking pan. Arrange about half of the eggplant slices over the bottom and spoon half of the tomato sauce over them. Repeat, and then top evenly with the custard mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.
Serves 4 to 6.

For leftovers: This eggplant gratin goes great over pasta the next day. Reheat for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven and spoon over al dente penne or fusilli.