I’m biting my nails here because I have so many things to tell you and if I don’t make a selection, I’ll probably never get to the recipe.
First of all the name. Parmigiana literally means “from Parma”. However, this recipe has been known as a tradition in Naples and Sicily since the early XIX century. Food historians have not come up with a conclusive explanation of why an iconic Southern dish has a Northern name. Some say that preparing vegetables alla parmigiana – i.e. in the way of Parma – refers to the use of layers interspersed with cheese and baked.
In origin, the eggplant parmigiana must not have not included Parmesan cheese which is now a standard ingredient. The Southerners used pecorino, provolone, caciocavallo, or mozzarella.
Who knows, may be the people from Parma invented the method and the Southerners adapted it to local ingredients.
I have inscribed this dish in the list of the mistreated foods of Italy. Too often I see impossibly fat recipes oozing cheap cheese, heavy bread-crumb coating and drowning in industrial amounts of oil. A gastroenterologist nightmare.
On the other hand I lost count of absurd adaptations to make it “light”. I admit it, it’s not a low-cal dish but if one wants dessert one has to have some sugar, right? So what’s the sense to use all sorts of alternatives which will taste and look like something else?
The eggplant parmigiana is a dish of fried eggplants baked with a little cheese and tomato sauce. That’s it, simple, vegetarian and fantastic if properly prepared.
- 2 large eggplants
- 300 gr / 8 oz fresh mozzarella sliced
- 1 400 gr / 12 oz tin peeled or diced San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 10-12 fresh basil leaves
Prepare and fry and eggplants as explained here . Place in a colander for a few hours or possibly overnight to get read of excess oil. Grilled eggplants are often too dry, but if you don’t want to fry blanch them before grilling to keep them moist. Here is my recipe.
Heat 1 tablespoon EVO oil in a pan, add the onion, cover and saute over low heat until translucent. Stir in the tinned tomato and a sprig of basil, cover again and cook for approx. 10 min. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.
Preheat oven at 180 °C / 350 °F.
Build up the parmigiana: spread two tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Cover with a single layer of eggplant slices. Top with mozzarella, 2-3 basil leaves, 1 tablespoons of Parmesan and 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. Continue using all ingredients and finish with a layer of eggplant, sauce and Parmesan. Bake for 30 min until golden and bubbly. You must allow it to cool off for at least 10 min before serving but it’s best at room temperature. In the summer we have it as a main vegetarian meal with crusty bread to mop up the gorgeous juices.