I spent 4 months in Italy in my last year of high school. I’d like to follow this with “where I learned to cook authentic Italian dishes, and later taught my Nonna some new tricks in fluent Italian” but unfortunately during this time my acquisitions were more physical than mental.
It IS however where I fell in love with Melanzane alla Parmigiana, or eggplant parmesan. We were spoiled to have a chef cook up amazing dishes every day in our school ‘cafeteria’, and I think Aurelio rather enjoyed watching the students grow porkier with time.
When I first tasted this dish I assumed it was the greatest reincarnation of lasagna done Italian style, having no idea it contained eggplant rather than traditional noodles. The texture remains the same melt-in-your mouth delicacy of my grandmother’s lasagna yet offers a new flavour profile with the vegetable’s absorption of tomato sauce, garlic and basil. The result is a savoury, gooey comfort food that I like to make in stacks with smoked mozzarella.
What you will need:
1 large eggplant
1 bag of fresh spinach (for salad)
2 tsp of dried or fresh basil
1 ball of smoked mozzarella
3 cups of fresh or store bought tomato sauce
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of Olive Oil
1/4 cup of flour
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
salad dressing of choice
Preheat oven to 350°.
Slice eggplant short-wise into round slices, about 3/4 inches thick. If they are too thick, the eggplant won’t have that melty texture, and if they are too thin they will deteriorate in the cooking process.
Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and lightly salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until slices look slightly dehydrated and have a touch of brown in colour. I opt for this par-cooking step to take the stiffness out of the vegetable.
Let the eggplant cool slightly while preparing your dishes for breading. Each slice will be patted in flour, dipped in an egg bath and finished with a breadcrumb coating. I like to mix a little parmesan into the breadcrumbs. For gluten-sensitive people (myself included), the following can be done without breading the slices.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet at med-high heat. Lay your breaded eggplant slices in the oil, flipping once the bottoms are crispy golden brown. Resist the urge to move these around the pan! As with meat, browning is best done with your hands tied behind your back.
Once all eggplant steaks have been browned, you are ready to begin layering a masterpiece.
Place the largest diameter rounds along the bottom and spoon a dollop of sauce on each. Spread the sauce almost to the edges and sprinkle with basil. Lay a thin slice of smoked mozzarella and finish with a dusting of parmesan, topping with another eggplant round. Continue this way until the smallest rounds remain and use to top each stack.
Note, if stacks aren’t your thing, you can layer this flat in the pan lasagna-style as well.
* In this dish I used tomato sauce with meat (veal), but you can choose to make this fully vegetarian.
When stacks are complete throw them in the oven for about 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and you can’t handle the tantalizing smell any longer. In the meantime, wash and remove the stems from your fresh spinach.
Since the eggplant is chock-full of flavour, I recommend using a simple dressing for the spinach. My favorite is good quality EVOO, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. Together, this dish makes for a healthy, filling meal and a perfect pair to a glass of red.