Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Although Melanzane alla Parmigiana or Aubergine/Eggplant Parmesan is well-known throughout the world its place of origin remains a mystery. Its name immediately suggests a link with Parma and the Emilia Romagna region, however the abundant use of aubergines and tomatoes would indicate that the dish hails from southern Italy, most likely Sicily. Wherever it may come from, all agree that this mouthwatering creation is one of the stars of Italian cuisine.

The classic recipe calls for the layering of fried slices of aubergine with a thick tomato and basil sauce, parmesan cheese and mozzarella and then baking in the oven until the flavours and textures combine to create a delicious, vegetarian, delight. There are many different tweaks to the recipe which include using courgettes or zucchini as well as the aubergine or substituting the mozzarella with a different cheese such as caciocavallo or ricotta salata.

Some also like to add an extra layer of sliced hard-boiled egg. There are also recipes which call for covering the slices of aubergine with egg and flour before frying although this makes the dish much thicker and heavier than simply browning in olive oil. For a lighter, less oily version you can just lightly grill the aubergine before adding to the dish and omit the mozzarella. 

Although the preparation of the dish is a little time-consuming, a good homemade Parmigiana never fails to impress and don’t worry if there are leftovers, it tastes even better the next day.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Serves 6

1.5kg aubergines

300g mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/2 onion, finely chopped

150g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Handful of leaves of fresh basil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

100g coarse sea salt

2x 700ml jars of tomato passata

Salt

To begin, trim the aubergines and slice lengthways to a thickness of about 1cm. Layer the slices of aubergine in a colander with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt between each layer and leave for about 45 minutes to eliminate any bitterness.

In the meantime prepare the sauce. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the passata, bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Add a pinch of salt and a few basil leaves, cook for another 4-5 minutes and then taste (if the sauce is too acidic add a sprinkle of sugar). Once ready remove from the heat.

Once the aubergine slices are ready rinse them with cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat a generous dash of olive oil in a pan and fry the aubergine until golden on both sides. Leave to drain on paper towels for a few minutes.

When you are ready to bake the Parmigiana, heat the oven to 200° and grease a large ovenproof dish with olive oil. Spread a little of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish and then place one layer of aubergine, trying not to overlap the slices too thickly. Spread a layer of sauce on top of the aubergine followed by some grated parmesan and a layer of mozzarella (leaving some space between then pieces). Continue adding aubergine, tomato, parmesan and mozzarella until you run out of ingredients ensuring that the top layer finishes with just tomato and parmesan.

Cook for 40 minutes until the top is golden. 

By Kate Zagorski

Kate Zagorski has been living in Italy for the past 13 years. Now married to a food-obsessed Roman, in 2011 she set up a blog to pass on the secrets and stories of Italian cooking and recount everyday life in Rome. Follow on Twitter @AngeloInCucina

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