Makes: 4 to 8 servings
Time: 2 hours plus resting time
Layers of vegetables on a whole grain crust make this torta not only delicious but impressive enough to serve to guests. Choose whatever grain you like: quinoa, cracked wheat, farro, steel-cut oats, kasha, and millet are all good. The same holds true for the vegetables; I like the Mediterranean flavors in this version, but you can also try thinly sliced and par-cooked butternut squash, potato, sweet potato, caramelized leeks, oven-roasted tomatoes or peppers, even chiles. For a touch of meat, sprinkle on a thin layer of cooked and crumbled Italian sausage or chopped pancetta.
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the onions in a large dry skillet with a lid over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring infrequently, until the onions are dry and almost sticking to the pan, about 20 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown, another 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside,
2. Meanwhile, smear 2 (or more) baking sheets with 2 tablespoons oil each. Lay the eggplant slices on one sheet and the zucchini on the other in a single layer: (You may need to work in batches, cooking the eggplant on the 2 baking sheets, then cooking the zucchini.) Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and drizzle or brush each with another couple tablespoons of oil. Roast until the eggplant and zucchini are soft, about 15 minutes for the zucchini, 20 or so for the eggplant.
3. Coat the bottom and inside the ring of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan with some oil. Press half of the cooked grains into the bottom of the pan to form an even crust, about 1/2 inch thick, covering the bottom completely. Layer a third of the eggplant slices on top of the grain crust (trim the eggplant pieces if necessary to fit), then layer half the zucchini, half of the caramelized onions, and some of the basil, sprinkling each layer with a bit of salt and pepper; repeat the layers, pressing down gently on each one, and ending with eggplant. Spread the remaining grain on top and press with a spatula or spoon to make the torta as compact as possible. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese if you're using it.
4. Put the torta in the oven and cook until it is hot throughout and the cheese is crusty, about 30 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes before carefully removing the outer ring of the pan. Then let cool for another 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Garnish with the remaining basil and serve.
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