Parmigiana di Melanzane (Aubergine)

A simple and humble dish that leaves you wanting more, every time.

One of my family and friends all-time comfort food. I have read and tried countless Parmigiana di Melanzane recipes and researched on its origin, yet I am nowhere close to finding the truth.

Some Italians argue that this is a Northern dish with cheese that originated from Parma. Hence it is called ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’ others say that the traditional preparation of this dish originates from Naples, the cooking preparation is classic to Napoli, but the Sicilians have a very different viewpoint. One of which is that the recipe is not from Parma in Northern Italy where Parmigiano cheese is from instead the dish got its name from ‘parmiciana’, the equivalent in Sicilian dialect to “Persian,” and therefore the dish’s name did not derive from Parmigiano cheese of Parma. Food authorities, food writers and critics argue that the dish must be of Sicilian origin since aubergine first came to Sicily and that throughout the fourteenth-century Parmigiano was a widely traded cheese and found throughout Italy including Naples, Sicily and Calabria. Therefore, although the dish contained Parmigiano cheese from Parma, it is not a Northern dish.

Wherever the dish originates, highest respect to its inventor that centuries on, it’s well-loved, adored and fought over by both the Northern and Southern Italians. The mystery and admirers of the Parmigiana di Melanzane shall no doubt continue for centuries more to come.

Here is my take on a shortcut version of Parmigiana di Melanzane without the boiled egg and egg batter. Simplified for quicker and efficient cooking but still taste yum! The traditional recipe takes a lot of time to prepare, aubergines needed to be salted, left for a while, rinsed and pat dry before frying them in batches in a lot of oil. The recipe I have written here take less time to cook and need less oil. This recipe is far from the traditional Parmigiana di Melanzane recipe and cooking techniques, but it was created and prepared with loads of love, and attention so I hope you enjoy it.

Serves 4

KITCHEN KIT: knife, chopping board, pastry brush, a large saucepan, wooden spoon and a medium-sized baking tray/oven proof casserole dish.

Ingredients:

For the aubergine

  1. 3 large aubergines, sliced into thin slices ¼ inch thick (* choose the chubbiest aubergines, they are easier to slice and save time on slicing more aubergines, sliced all in equal thickness to make sure they all finish cooking at the same time)
  2. 4 tbsp olive oil
  3. 100g Ricotta cheese
  4. 100g Parmesan cheese, grated
  5. 100g mozzarella cheese, torn
  6. Pinches of salt and pepper (*caution on the salt since the ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan will also add a layer or saltiness to the dish)
  7. Breadcrumbs (Preferably dried panko breadcrumbs, save time on dry frying breadcrumbs)

For the tomato sauce

  1. 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  2. 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  3. ½ tsp. chilli flakes
  4. 3 tbsp. of olive oil
  5. 2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes in tomato juice
  6. 2 tsp dried oregano
  7. 2 tbsp. of tomato puree
  8. ½ a tsp. of sugar
  9. Fresh basil, torn
  10. Pinches of salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.
  2. Brush and coat the aubergine slices with olive oil on both sides. Placed on an oiled baking tray until lightly browned approximately 15-20 min. Do this in batches. Set aside cooked aubergines, while preparing the tomato sauce.
  3. For the tomato sauce, heat a large frying pan. Fry the garlic, onion and chilli flakes with a little oil until soft. Add the plum tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, sugar and basil leaves. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Brush a medium-sized baking tray/casserole dish with olive oil, spread a little tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of aubergine slices and spread another layer of tomato sauce on top.
  5. Spread half the ricotta on the top and sprinkle with Parmesan, breadcrumbs, a few mozzarella pieces, salt and pepper. Continue to repeat the layers until all the aubergine is used. Finish with a layer of a few mozzarella pieces topped with a final sprinkle of parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve with freshly torn basil leaves.

 

Note:

This dish reheats well if you have any leftovers but that never happened with my family and friends. I’ve re-heated this dish once when I cooked it just for me during my experimentation days.

Caution on salt and oil since the cheese will add a layer or saltiness and oil into the dish.

 

The Beloved Burrata Caprese Recipe

The last time I posted a blog was on the 29th of May 2016.
I have since moved into a new cosy home with my new kitchen project finished, and my kitchen gadgets finally unpacked. Over the next coming months, I will be spending a lot of my time with my beloved kitchen gadgets experimenting and creating new comfort food recipes dedicated to my lovely family and friends. And so for my first blog in my new home, I dedicate this recipe to my family and friends, who also happened to be ‘Burrata’ superfans!

Burrata, a Puglian cheese is possibly one of the most beloved of cheese by many, for some perhaps the one and only ULTIMATE beloved cheese!
Sadly, burrata and my other favourite Italian cheese Stracciatella di bufala are not widely available in many supermarkets in the UK. Waitrose stock burrata but often it is sold out, which is a real disappointment when my cravings kick in! In times of those emergency moments, mozzarella combined with mascarpone can often be a good substitute for burrata.

Serves 4

KITCHEN KIT: Knife, a small whisk, a bowl and a serving plate.

Ingredients:

  1. 200g Burrata cheese, preferably buffalo’s milk.
  2. Fresh basil, torn.
  3. fresh vine tomatoes, sliced
  4. 1 clove of garlic, sliced (optional)
  5. 1 tbsp. Italian aged balsamic vinegar
  6. 3 or 4 tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil, preferably use Californian cold pressed olive oil.
  7. Pinch of salt.
  8. Pinch of pepper.

Method:

  1. Rinse and slice (room temperature) tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle sliced garlic (optional).
  2. Mix/ whisk balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Drizzle over tomatoes.
  3. Scatter torn basil leaves over sliced tomatoes, Add drained burrata.
  4. Serve and eat immediately before your eating companions scoff it off!

Buon Appetito!

For a wine and cheese pairing, I recommend:

Tocai Friulano from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Northeast of Italy or Piemonte’s Langhe Rosso Wine.

Tuscan Ribollita (Reboiled Soup)

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During my visit to Florence I discovered this humble soup in Trattoria da Roco. Although it doesn’t look so apetising, it is a very comforting; a hearty soup that is tasty and filling. I have been making this soup since I came back from Florence and have tried a few different ways of making it. I tried using thyme and added other vegetables to it. The key ingredient is the Tuscan Kale and the beans, which I didn’t omit in any of my previous experiments. Recently, to my surprise I discovered that there is an official ‘authentic’ Ribollita recipe issued by the Tuscan Tourist office.  Although, my recipe is not the authentic recipe endorse by the Tuscan authorities it is one of my favourite experiments and the stubborn side of me can’t help but stick to my easier and quicker version. Though, I would certainly try making the authentic recipe the next time I am in Tuscany and can get access to ‘Tuscan Kale’. The best part of making this soup is that it tastes even better the day. It is no wonder the Italian’s named it Reboiled Soup.

KITCHEN KIT:
A 5 litre ceramic caserole dish and a wooden spoon.

Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1. 6 tbsp of olive oil
2. 65g, diced pancetta
3. 3 cloves of peeled garlic, grated
4. 2 onions, finely chopped
5. 3 celery sticks, finely chopped into little cubes
6. 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped into little cubes
7. 1 courgette, finely chopped into little cubes
8. 2 bay leaves
9. 2 rosemary sprigs
10.400g chopped tomatoes (from a tin)
11.400g of cannellini beans (from a tin)
12.600ml chicken stock
13. 2 tbsp. of tomato paste
14. 2 slices of a loaf of bread, torn into small pieces.
15. 1/2 tsp of salt
16. 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
17. 80g of chopped Kale
18. 4 tbsp. of grated parmesan cheese

Process:
1. Place the caserole in a medium heat, add 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Fry the garlic, pancetta, onion, rosemary and bay leaves for 5 minutes or until the onions turns translucent. Keep stirring to prevent the garlic from getting burnt.

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2. Add the chopped celery, carrots, courgettes and soften for 5 minutes.

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3. Add the chopped tomatoes,cannellini bans, chicken stock, tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat (lowest heat possible), stir and cover the casserole for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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4. After 30-45 minutes, add the bread and kale, stir them in and cover the caserole again. Cooked for another 10 minutes before adding the 3 tbsp. of olive oil.  Season to taste and just before serving garnish the soup with some grated parmesan cheese.

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That’s it! buon appetito!

Tips:
You can add more water if you find that the soup is becoming slightly dry. If you do add more water, give the soup a good stir and just let it simmer for a couple of minutes so you do not lose the flavour of the soup.

You can also cook this dish at the lowest possible heat for 24 hours, you need to cover the casserole to ensure that the liquid does not evaporate too much, stirring occasionally to also ensure the vegetables and bread does not get burnt. I find that this dish is actually better the next day when reheated and all the flavours of the vegetables are infused into the soup and bread. This a soup that taste good when reheated which I think could be the reason why they named it ‘reboiled soup’ in Tuscany.

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Trattoria Da Rocco, Firenze Italy

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Category: Trattoria (Canteen)
Cuisine: Traditional Italian
Price Range on Average: EUR 12.00 per person starter, main and dessert
Ambiance: Traditional, Rustic Italian Trattoria
Address: Piazza Ghiberti, 50121 Firenze, Italy
Tel: +39 339 296 3055
Website: www.trattoriadarocco.it
Opening Hours:Sun – Sat 11:00 am – 3:30 pm
Last Visited: spring of  2014 for lunch

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Review:
I visited Florence (Firenze) in spring time of 2014.  Thousands of tourists visits this amazing city of culture, art, great architecture and food. Finding a good place to eat that is not at the heart and heat of the crowded tourist attraction is hard to find in Florence. It is even harder to find a reasonably price place to eat or to just have a cup of espresso. Florence, although beautiful and is certainly worth visiting is incredibly pricey which is not surprising when millions of tourists would be willing pay a fortune for a cup of espresso.
If you are looking for a simple Italian food, just a step away from the centre of the tourist attractions. Then, the Trattoria Da Rocco is the place for you.
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This Tratorria offers humble, authentic Tuscan dishes, cooked simply, are tasty and reasonably price. It is located inside the historic covered market of Sant’Ambrogio. The market is frequented both by locals and tourists, fresh fish, seafood, ham, cheese and vegetables are sold here. You can therefore shop and eat at the same site.

Trattoria Da Rocco is popular both for locals and tourists. Hence, you will find that they turn they tables constantly as guests comes and goes. The service is quick and the food is already made at the centre of the restaurant. They simply dish up the food you order and serve it quickly to your table. Although, I have always preferred food cooked to order, I cannot complain when the main course is price at €5 euros. The food is also tasty and the ambiance is busy and lively. It was a memorable place to visit mainly because I’ve had my first Ribollita soup here. A hearty Tuscan soup made with vegetables and bread. I am now obsess with Ribollita and have since tried experimenting different recipes to relive the moment when I first I had it. Other dishes they serve includes pasta with tomato and mozzarella, tripe in tomato sauce, roast beef, roast chicken, baked lasagna and panzanella . This is not a place to experience haute cuisine but a place where you can try something simple and tasty at a reasonably price trattoria that is full of character.
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Pizzeria Antica Porta- Florence, Italy

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Pizzeria Antica Porta
Category: Restaurant, Pizzeria
Cuisine: Italian, over 100 pizza to choose from
Price Range on Average: EUR 8.00-10.00 (for a pizza) EUR 20.00 -25.00 (per head for 2 course meal including drinks)
Ambiance: Traditional, Rustic Italian Trattoria
Address: Via Senese, 23, 50124 Firenze, Italy
Tel: +39 055 220527
Website: www.antica-portica.it
Last Visited: 2014 for dinner

Review:
Located just a few steps away from the City Centre. This amazing Pizzeria offers authentic, crispy, super thin pizza that is so heavenly! This trattoria proudly offers over hundreds of different pizzas.  There’s truffle pizza, classic pizzas such as margherita, for dessert there’s also the chocolate pizza, though not for my taste, I am sure there are those who would love it.

Although, this trattoria offers pasta dishes as well, this is really a place to have a ‘Pizza’.

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If you are a pizza fan, this would certainly be a perfect place for you in Florence. The pizzas are reasonably price and for Florence they are a lot cheaper than any other trattorias you will find located in the main city centre. Since it is not in the main tourist centre, the area is less busy and hence it is a more pleasant area to stroll around before or after your meal.

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Florence is also known for its ‘tripe’ so I decided to order their “Trippa di baccala con palate” for my starter, which is tripe with salt cod fish and potato cooked in a simple tomato sauce.  The tripe has a melt in your mouth texture, the fish is cooked to perfection and the sweetness of the tomato sauce compliments the saltiness of the cod. Although, this dish was listed on their ‘special dishes for the evening as a main course’ on a hanging blackboard, I requested to have it dish for a starter instead. The waitress told me that I can have any of their dishes anyway I want it. Either as a main or a starter.

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For main course, I had one of their pizza recommendations on their menu, which is the ” Stracciatela and buffalo mozzarella pizza in tomato base sauce”. The pizza was incredibly thin, the cheese is rich and creamy, but it did not over power the tomato base sauce. The outer crust of the pizza is so crispy that you can snap it with your fingers. The centre of the pizza on the other hand, is not crispy but softer in texture – yet not soggy. For me this really constitutes the best pizza. The combination of texture and flavours is superb! I loved it so much that I kept dreaming about this pizza for 4 days! Also ordered Vesuvio pizza and must say that it is now one of my favourite pizzas as well! This pizza has slightly spicy pepperoni, sausage meat and a lot of buffalo mozzarella! They once again managed to balance the flavour of the dish by not having too many sausages or pepperoni to over power the buffalo mozzarella and tomato base sauce. Again, if I have the chance to visit Florence again. This would be my first stop, upon landing, Trattoria Antica Porta for a Vesuvio Pizza!

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The restaurant itself is not an up market restaurant. It is not the place to be seen or one of those restaurants where people go because of its luxurious ambiance or because it is run by a famous chef. It is a simple, down to earth place, a more relax trattoria where both locals and tourists goes. There are lot of young Italian families that goes to this restaurant as well. I love that this humble place offers one of the best pizza in Florence yet still offers them at reasonable prices and continues to cater not just for the tourist but also for their long standing local customers.  I highly recommend this humble restaurant to anyone visiting or living in Florence! Buon Appetito!

“Arrivederci in cielo Vesuvio”

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