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.
KITCHEN KIT: knife, chopping board, pastry brush, a large saucepan, wooden spoon and a medium-sized baking tray/oven proof casserole dish.
For the aubergine
- 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)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 100g Ricotta cheese
- 100g Parmesan cheese, grated
- 100g mozzarella cheese, torn
- 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)
- Breadcrumbs (Preferably dried panko breadcrumbs, save time on dry frying breadcrumbs)
For the tomato sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- ½ tsp. chilli flakes
- 3 tbsp. of olive oil
- 2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes in tomato juice
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp. of tomato puree
- ½ a tsp. of sugar
- Fresh basil, torn
- Pinches of salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.