Beans with aubergine and Parmesan crust

Serves 4

Into the melting pot

A warm and nourishing bean stew deserves its own bowl – just be sure not to crack your favourite crock!
Nigel Slater

Haricot of black-eyed beans 450 g
Rosemary 3 stems
Dried oregano 1 tbsp
Tomatoes, chopped 2 x 400g cans
Bay leaves 2
Aubergines 2 medium
Olive oil
Onions 2
Garlic 3 cloves

For the crust:
White bread, not too crusty 125g
Garlic 1 clove
Grated parmesan 30 g
Lemon 1
Rosemary 2 or 3 sprigs
Dried oregano 1 tsp
Olive oil 3 tbsp

Put the beans into a deep bowl, cover with cold water and leave overnight. In the morning, drain, tip into a large saucepan and cover with at least 2 litres of water. Bring the water to the boil then skim off the froth that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to a jolly simmer, add the bay leaves and partially cover the pan with a lid.
Cook for 45 minutes until almost tender. They should give a little when squeezed. Drain and set aside. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways then cut each half into about 8 thick slices.
In a separate pan, warm 4 tbsp of olive oil. Fry the aubergines, in twoo or three batches, till pale gold on both sides and soft in the middle then remove and drain on kitchen paper. Add more oil and lower the heat as necessary for each batch. The pieces of aubergine must be soft and tender.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Add to the empty pan with a tbsp or two of olive oil. Leave over a moderate heat until they have softened. Peel and thinly slice the garlic, add to the onions with the needles from the rosemary stems, finely chopped, and the oregano and leave to soften. The onions shouldn’t colour.
Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, then stir in the cooked and drained beans and the aubergines. Fill an empty tomato can with water and add to the pan. Once the mixture has returned to the boil, turn off the heat. Cover the dish and transfer to the oven for 45 minutes.
Make the crust by reducing the bread to coarse crumbs in a food processor. Add the garlic, peeled and crushed, then the parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper and a little salt. Finely grate the lemon zest, and add it to the crumbs. Remove the rosemary needles from their stems and chop them finely. Stir into the crumbs with the dried oregano.
Pour the olive oil into the breadcrumbs and toss gently – you want them to be lightly moist. Remove the bean dish from the oven, spoon the crumbs on top and replace, uncovered, in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is crisp.