Parmigiana di melanzane

Also known as Aubergine Parmigiana or Eggplant Parmesan this creation is an excellent example of a simple dish with great opportunity for experiment and adventure.

Traditionally vegetarian, it can be adapted for meat lovers by applying a sauce with some meat components, or it can be put together with the material you happen to have in your fridge at the moment.  Possibly the important strategy to observe is to stick with Italian cheeses (rather than e.g. cheddar or gruyere), and maintain fundamentally the tomato flavour of the sauce. I recently used some leftover chicken gumbo  re-enforced with a spoonful or two of tomato paste – the resulting dish was very successful.So – this is the basic scheme. Play with if as you may, or stay within the basic, also most satisfying Italian food.

For 4 (main dish) or 6 (as a side or starter) people you may prepare

  • some tomato based sauce – I would say at minimum 1 litre, but then you may choose to go for less ‘saucy’ version. Remember, the eggplant will release some of its juice in the baking chamber..
  • 3 medium size eggplants (about 1 kg?), sliced 3/4cm thick,
  • Olive oil for frying,
  • generous portion (start with 150g) of grated parmesan cheese,
  • 250-300g of grated Caciocavallo cheese (or use Mozzarella),
  • 1 bunch of basil (about 25 large leaves),
  • Salt and pepper to season.
  1. Layer the eggplant slices in a wide colander, sprinkle each layer with salt.
  2. Cover the colander with inverted plate or foil, place it on a plate and leave for a few hours. Eggplant with sweat, release the bitter juice and drip the juice on a plate.
  3. Having given it some time to drip, you will dry each slice with a cotton tea towel or paper towel.
  4. Now you may either fry the slices in a non stick pan (adding a little olive oil to the pan with each batch of aubergines) or spray the slices with olive oil and cook on a hot griddle pan till golden. Sprinkle each slice with a little salt and pepper.
  5. Fried slices go on the paper towel again, to extract any available but not needed grease. Here they may rest until you are ready to compile the dish.
  6. Chop the basil leaves roughly, leaving 6 – 8 leaves whole for garnishing the last layer.
  7. Set the oven to 375F/185C.
  8. Take a flat baking dish, then cover the base with a little of the tomato sauce.
  9. Sprinkle with some of the cheeses and basil leaves. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices.
  10. Repeat the layers (sauce, cheeses, basil..) twice, finishing with a layer of tomato sauce, parmesan and whole basil leaves.
  11. Bake in the hot oven at for approx 25-30 mins. Allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting.

This is lovely as a side dish, or as part of an antipasti platter.

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