Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Many years ago I was invited to an Italian friend’s New Year’s party. It was a fun evening all around with close family only, but what I still remember the most – apart from my friend and me doing an impersonation of Al Bano & Romina Power 😂 – was this fantastic dish called melanzane alla parmigana. I had never heard of this before but it was immediately clear that I had missed out. Aubergines were already one of my favourite vegetables, and paired with mozzarella – what’s not to like!?
What I wasn’t too keen on was the preparation. I need to clear up something first, though, because my research this morning about the ways this dish is prepared in various parts of Italy showed that rarely is it done with breaded aubergines. The aubergines seem to be deep-fried in oil first instead of breaded, which I hadn’t heard of before. I really dislike the hassle of oil frying even more than breading something.
My friend’s family is from the Avellino province east of Naples, and to this day I don’t know whether breading the aubergines is something specific to that region or just the way my friend’s family did it. Either way, I love this version and wouldn’t even want to try an oil fried one. I also happen to like that the breading adds a nice texture to this dish.
Out of necessity, because I made this spontaneously once and didn’t have any eggs, I tried a version with non-breaded aubergines. It was OK but for me can never compete with the breaded variety.
Another difference in my friend’s recipe is that they don’t cook the chopped tomatoes with onions and spices before adding them to the aubergines. The tomato layers are seasoned as you go, with just dried oregano, salt and pepper.
At this time of year I get my aubergines from my parents’ garden, and I find they taste much better and more intensive than shop bought ones. The only disadvantage can be if you need evenly sized slices as the ones from our garden are often oddly shaped. Today this didn’t matter as they’re covered in cheese and tomato sauce anyway.
In fact, the smaller rounds came in quite handy today, as they fit the spaces between the larger aubergine rounds. Usually I would quarter a larger slice to fill those spaces, so it all worked out well.
Luckily I used my new frying pan today, because nothing burned, and I just had to remove the remaining breadcrumbs between batches. I still had to do three batches for this relatively small pie dish (I’d say it’s a three person dish).
Before breading the aubergines, I recommend slicing them and placing them in layers in the dish of your choice to see if you have enough to fill it, or if you need to use a different size dish. However, if you have more slices than fit your dish, I urge you to bread and fry them – you will not be able to keep yourself from snacking on them! And you don’t want to snack on the perfect amount and not have enough left for the layers…
The amounts given in the recipe aren’t precise, it all depends on the size of your aubergines and your pie dish.
A note on the mozzarella: I used buffalo mozzarella in this dish for the first time today. I like the taste but not the way it seems to curdle on the top layer, so I might stick with plain mozzarella for the top layer in future.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana
eggs, whisked + slightly salted and peppered
canned polpa [chopped tomatoes]
Parmesan cheese, finely grated
(buffalo) mozzarella, roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper
Slice aubergines into rounds, about 0.5 cm thick. With a fork, dip each slice – on both sides – in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and place them on a plate or chopping board.
Once all the aubergine slices are breaded, heat salted butter in a non-stick pan and fry the breaded aubergine slices in batches until they’re slightly browned.
In a pie dish, spread about a tablespoon of the chopped tomatoes on the bottom, then place first layer of aubergines on top [fill any gaps with cut up/quartered slices.] Add some chopped tomatoes on top of the aubergines, but not too much, or they’ll get soggy. Season with oregano, salt, and pepper. Cover with a mix of Parmesan cheese and mozzarella. Follow with aubergines and proceed until they’re used up, then top with a good amount of chopped tomatoes and the cheeses.
Bake on middle shelf at 200°C / 400°F 35 – 40 minutes, or until the cheeses are nicely browned. Serve hot with a mixed leaf salad.