Here it is another wonderful summer recipe from southern Italy, especially from Campania and Sicily regions (they both claim the authenticity of the recipe, of course 😀 and also the city of Parma has some claims, but it’s not 100% clear the exact origin).
Definitely one of the best recipes representing the summer and the good weather! 🙂
It’s a sort of “lasagna”, but instead of using layers of pasta we use slices of fried eggplants 🙂 of course, there are many variations of Parmigiana and there are some details that can change from place to place and from family to family, so this is how I do (for variations I mean some details changing in the technique, but not for example adding chicken or veal as I saw sometimes in some fake Italian restaurants/websites 😉 that’s no more a Parmigiana di Melanzane!).
It’s another old traditional recipe and it can be found in many famous older Italian cookbooks. And in the Italian restaurants you will find it served as a second course or in smaller portions as an appetizer too.
But before talking about the recipe let’s talk about some details, as usual 🙂
– Eggplants: the original/traditional versions require the eggplants to be fried, traditionally in extra virgin olive oil. But also in peanuts oil can be good (or other seeds oils with a high smoke point). Then, nowadays there are more and more people “afraid” of the fats 😀 so there are also versions where the eggplants are baked or grilled…not bad but quite different, and since I don’t eat everyday this dish I prefer to keep following the traditional way, and if I feel “guilty” (never) I’ll take a longer run than usual 😀 Then some people would discuss about which type of eggplant is the best choice, but I used the common dark ones, with oval shape, and they are perfect (if you want to know, and if you find them, maybe the best choice are “melanzane violette“)…And again, someone removes the peel, someone doesn’t: I leave it, or I remove just the half, it gives also a nice color to the dish.
– Fry: someone fries the eggplant slices just as they are, someone passes them just in flour, someone passes them in egg and flour…personally I can accept to use flour, while I think that with the egg it’s a bit too heavy and too much. But also fried simple with nothing on it is good, and that’s what I usually do.
– Tomato sauce: the most common choice is to use the “passata di pomodoro” (the tomato sauce), made just with tomatoes. But someone uses tomato pulp, someone makes at the moment a sauce starting from fresh tomatoes…I used a home made tomato sauce, but if it’s already the good season and you have very good tomatoes then you can do a sauce with those, what’s matter is to use good quality tomatoes/sauce. Then again, someone chooses to add some garlic (to remove later), someone prefer the onion…I prefer the garlic. And again, someone adds also oregano but I don’t, for me basil is perfect and enough. What’s important is to reduce well the sauce, it must not be too much liquid, but thick.
– Cheese: mostly it’s used the Mozzarella (a real and good quality one), either from cow milk or buffalo milk are perfect, it’s up to your choice: the cow milk mozzarella will be more stringy because of the different composition, while the buffalo mozzarella will be not stringy but more tasty. This time I chose the buffalo mozzarella because of the taste, but I like also with a good cow mozzarella. Then again someone uses caciocavallo, someone uses provolone, someone else uses scamorza, in Sicily also a young Ragusano DOP can be seen: all these are good choices too. What’s matter, again, is their quality. These are the cheese to use for the “melting part”, but with all the versions of this recipe there is always freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano too.
So, let’s go to the recipe now! It’s quite a long process, but it is definitely worth it every time! 🙂
INGREDIENTS (4-5 people):
- 4-5 eggplants (about 1,2-1,4 kg together)
- 400-500 g of buffalo mozzarella (a good one)
- 100 g of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 750-800 ml of good tomato sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- basil, a lot 😀 well, 12/15 fresh leaves for sure
- flour (optional)
- coarse sea salt
- oil to fry the eggplants, depending on the pan size (for the tradition extra virgin olive oil, or if you prefer also peanuts oil can be ok)
- First let’s cut the eggplants into slices of about 4/5 mm thick (but someone prefer to do it thicker, also up to 1 cm: that’s up to you). You can choose if cutting the eggplants vertical or horizontal, and you can choose to remove the peel or not (the violet of the peel give an extra color, which is nice to the eye). Take a colander and put the slices on each other, adding some coarse sea salt on each slice. Then put a weight on them, so it will drain their bitter liquids out. Wait at least 2 or 3 hours (or even a whole night long). It’s always better to get rid of the liquids if you have to fry.
- Do the same with the buffalo mozzarella: leave it to dry for the same time, or even more (the best is if you remove the mozzarella from its water, you cut in half or in slices and you leave it to dry in the fridge all night long: you’ll find all its liquid on the bottom the following morning).
- When the time has passed, wash very fast the eggplant slices under a little running water (they don’t have to reabsorb water, but just remove the extra salt), then squeeze them and dry them very well. Be sure to have enough kitchen paper at home, we’ll need some later too 🙂
- Then let’s heat the oil in a frying pan (but before pass the eggplant slices in the flour in the case you would like to do that). The ideal temperature is 175/180 °C, you can help yourself with a thermometer, what’s important is not to reach the smoke point of the oil. When the oil is hot enough add 3-4 slices of eggplants at each time, no more otherwise the temperature of the oil will drop too down and it’s not the best to fry. Fry them just for few seconds on both sides, the time to turn them into a nice golden color, and then lay them on a tray with absorbing paper. Drain the exceeding oil well, if necessary change the paper more times. Salt: in my opinion they got enough salt previously while cleaning out the bitter liquids, but if you want you can add some extra salt now.
- Now the tomato sauce (well, I suggest to start this step before frying and during the time while the sauce is reducing you can fry the eggplants): it must be quite thick, so we must reduce it. Take a pan and add a drizzle of oil and the 2 cloves of garlic, then when the garlic has got a golden color we add the tomato sauce, and we let it simmer for at least 30-40 minutes. When it’s reduced enough we remove the cloves of garlic, we switch off the heat and we add the basil leaves.
- Now we have everything and we can finally start to assemble the dish 🙂 take an oven pan and spread a drizzle of oil on the bottom (very little, just a drop, help yourself with a brush for example).
- Now prepare the layers in the following way: first a little bit of tomato sauce on the bottom, then we start in the order with the eggplant slices, the tomato sauce, then the mozzarella, some leaves of basil and last the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I suggest to do 3 or 4 layers. The final layer is eggplants, tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano Reggiano for last.
- Put in the oven, static mode, at 190/200 °C for 25-30 minutes, then 5-8 minutes at fan-assisted mode, with grill on too, at 170/180 °C until the Parmigiano Reggiano makes a nice crust. There will be an amazing perfume all over your kitchen 🙂
- Serve it, and enjoy with a good glass of wine 🙂 But the best is if you wait 1 or 2 hours before serving it, because when the Parmigiana is too hot it doesn’t show its best…and this is one of those recipes which are very good also rewarmed the day after, or even cold (or even inside a sandwich!): so don’t worry if something remains 😀