Parmigiana di Melanzane from Campania… no, Apulia… no, Sicily!
Nobody is quite sure where this dish comes from and its origins are hotly disputed between the above regions. Some people mistakenly assume that it comes from Parma in Emilio-Romagna because of the name, but that is not the case. In fact, I lean towards the idea that the dish was originally Sicilian because one explanation for the name could be that it comes from the dialect word for “shutters”, parmiciana, due to the way the slices of aubergine (or eggplant, as you wish) overlap.
I also think it might be Sicilian because of the number of aubergines I ate when I first visited Palermo in 2007 – parmigiana, stuffed aubergines, aubergine pizza (called siciliana, appropriately), aubergine pasta bake, pasta with aubergines, aubergines with fresh tuna… they really like their aubergines in Sicily.
This recipe takes patience. It probably wasn’t the best idea to do it on a week night but it was pretty damned good! This is just one variation of this recipe, as each family in every one of the three regions in which the recipe is regularly made seem to have their own recipe… and that’s if you can get mum, gran and all of the aunties to agree on one version!
You will need (makes four large portions)
3 good sized aubergines
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable or seed oil (for deep frying)
2 cans of tomatoes
a handful of fresh basil
3 large eggs
500-700g of Fior di Latte (or mozzarella if you can’t get Fior di Latte)
a handful of parmesan or other hard grated cheese
salt to taste
A lot of kitchen roll…
1. Fill a basin with cold, salty water.
2. Slice the aubergines lengthways, about 0.5 -1 cm thick.
3. Place them in the salted water for about 20 minutes. This will help take any bitterness out of the aubergines.
4. While the aubergines are soaking, prepare the egg by beating it in a bowl and placing to one side.
5. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the chopped garlic. Once it begins to turn golden, add your canned tomatoes and a pinch of salt and let simmer, keeping an eye on the sauce. When it thickens to a good consistency, as if you were making pasta sauce, add a handful of basil, stir until the leaves wilt and turn off the heat.
6. Drain the aubergines and rinse them well to get rid of the salt. Blot with kitchen roll to get rid of any excess water.
7. Add the vegetable oil to a large pan with relatively high edges and place on the hob. Prepare the kitchen table or other surface by laying out 2 layers of kitchen roll on it.
8. Heat the oil until bubbling BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN USING HOT OIL!!!!!!!
9. Prepare an oven dish and place it nearby. Preheat the oven now, to 200°C.
10. Take the slices of aubergine, and a few at a time coat them in the egg then drop them into the oil, turning them and removing when golden brown. Place them on the kitchen roll you laid out earlier.
11. When you have a few slices laid out, blot the excess oil away and add one layer to the oven dish. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce and a scattering of pieces of fior di latte.
12. Repeat, this time arranging the aubergine slices in the opposite direction, so they cross over each other.
13. keep going until you have filled the dish. On the last layer (the top) don’t add any fior di latte: just a layer of tomato sauce and a handful of parmesan
14. Place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the parmesan on top is dark and bubbly. In the meantime, clean the bombsite that was once your kitchen – I didn’t and had to do it after dinner, when I was half asleep. Not fun.