Melanzane alla parmigiana
First thing first, the name of this eggplant-based dish does not derive – as it would seem logical – from the town of Parma, nor from the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Historians say that ‘parmiciana’ is the ancient name of the Venetian blinds, composed of stacked slats just like the ingredients are laid in the pot in this recipe. The actual origin of the dish is most probably Sicilian, as the Greek (the moussaka, specifically) and Arab influences suggest. Before starting it is also worth to mention that this is a very caloric food that begs to be rendered lighter by any possible trick. The most common suggestion is to grill the eggplants instead of frying them, but doing so ruins the taste of the ‘parmigiana’, as it is often called. A much better alternative is to follow the recipe below, but be advised that the authentic dish does use deep-fried eggplant slices instead.
- 1,5 kg eggplants – choose the larger, deep purple variety
- 1 liter of ready-made Italian tomato sauce (“passata di pomodoro”) with basil
- 150 g parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 100g salt, coarse
- 500g caciocavallo cheese
- White flour
- 3 eggs
- Fine salt and pepper
- Bread crumbs
- Olive oil
Begin by thanking the XXI century for not having to prepare the sauce yourself. If you are a perfectionist you can find many excellent recipes online, but the truth of the matter is that the best industrial sauces are actually even better than some homemade ones – and they don’t even require hours of cooking. Wash the eggplants, cut their green cap away and slice them lengthwise in 1 cm high slices. Place the slices in a pan spreading coarse salt between each layer, then leave them be for one hour. This will purge the bitter taste from the aubergines. When the hour is over, thoroughly wash and dry each slice, then lightly flour their surface. Crack the eggs open, separate the yolks, add salt and pepper and use the mix to make the slices sticky, then generously cover them with fine bread crumbs. Cover a large oven pan with non-stick paper and lay the slices to cook for 20 minutes at 180° C (365F), until they turn golden. Lightly coat a casserole dish with oil, smear some sauce on the bottom and create your first layer of eggplants on it. The next layers will be: more sauce, a little parmigiano reggiano, caciocavallo slices; repeat until the casserole is full, taking care of criss-crossing the layers to make them more stable when served. The uppermost layer should be made with eggplants topped with sauce and parmigiano reggiano only.Cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes at 200 C (392F). The melanzane alla parmigiana should be served in small cubes or “little bricks”: be careful with their inner lava-like temperature when you eat, and… bon apetit!