Layers of chard, quinoa, grilled eggplant, marinara sauce and optional cheese equals easy, nutritious, autumn comfort food
Preheat the oven to 180C/350. Slick the aubergine slices with a minimum of oil and lay on a baking tray. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until softened. Set aside for now.
Now the sauce. Heat two tbsp of the oil in a saucepan over a low flame and add the chopped onion. Allow this to cook slowly until translucent, stirring as needed to prevent sticking. Add two of the chopped garlic cloves and cook a further minute before adding the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to the boil then simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
While the sauce is simmering, add the quinoa to a lidded saucepan and pour in double the volume of water. Bring to boiling point, pop on the lid and turn down to simmer steadily for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit under cover for a further 5 minutes. Drain if needed, but the water should be absorbed.
Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil to a saute pan or an stove/hob-safe baking dish and heat over a medium flame. Add the chard, remaining garlic, and cook with a tablespoon of water until softened - about 5 minutes.
To assemble the casserole/bake, spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a baking dish, followed by half the quinoa, half the chard and half of the eggplant; spoon over more sauce and half of the cheese, if using. Repeat with the final layer. Take the panko crumbs and mix with any remaining olive oil; sprinkle over the top of the dish.
Bake the casserole for 20 minutes at 180C/350F, or until the sauce is bubbling at the side and the crumbs are browned. Enjoy warm.
Midweek tweak: You may of course make this dish much more quickly by using pre-cooked quinoa and pre-made sauce. I like to keep both of these staples in the freezer for speedy and nutritious midweek meals. Defrost both before using in this dish.
Vegetarians and vegans: Taleggio cheese is not vegetarian so opt for smoked mozzarella or any flavourful vegetarian or vegan cheese that you wish. Or leave out the cheese altogether.
If your tomatoes are quite acidic, add a little more sweetness to balance.
For soft food diet needs, blend all elements as required for you and layer up as described.