Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

23 Oct

Eggplant, also known by its French name aubergine, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well its unique, pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.  It originates from Asia, and the first one imported in America was round and with a yellowish-white color (like an egg!).  The Italian name melanzana means” mela insana” (insanity-apple), because when it was first introduced in Italy (around 1500) people thought that this vegetable was noxious and could cause mental and intestinal disorders.  Notwithstanding this dubious start, eggplant is, in any case, a delicious vegetable that can be enjoyed grilled and marinated, stuffed, roasted or fried.  I like to cook and eat “insanity apples” in a wide assortment of recipes.  In addition being an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains phytonutrients, many of which have antioxidant properties and protect us from a variety of diseases. 


Preparation time: 2 hrs.                  Baking Time: 40 min.                        Servings:4

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a symphony of Italian flavors, is a appetizing main dish made of eggplants, tomato sauce, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and is flavored with fresh basil.  It is not know if the name Parmigiana means “melanzane all’uso di Parma” (eggplant from Parma, the city of Parmesan cheese), or if it comes from Parmiciana (par-mee-CHA-na), a Sicilian word referring to the louvered shutters made of overlapping wooden strips, recalling the arrangement of the eggplant slices in the pan.  As far as I know, Sicily is where you can enjoy the most delicious and authentic eggplant Parmesan.

900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
Kosher salt
½ small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
600 ml (about 2 cups) tomato sauce
1 sprig of basil
300 g (2 cups) diced Mozzarella cheese (see note, below)
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the eggplants under cold water.  Cut off the ends and slice them vertically into thin (4 mm, ¼ in) slices.  Arrange one layer of slices in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat this procedure until all the eggplants are in the colander.  Weigh down the slices with something heavy, (for example three plates) and let them drain for at least one hour.  This step helps release some of the moisture before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

  1. In a large sauce pan over a medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the tomato sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  (I personally do not add salt because my cooking is low in salt, but this depends on your taste).  Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Set aside.  I recommend using a dense tomato sauce rather than a liquid one
  2. When the eggplants have drained, press down on the slices to remove the excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and dry with paper towels
  3. Heat about 1 cm (½ in) olive oil into a large, deep skillet.  When the oil is hot, fry the eggplants until light golden brown on both sides.  Drain well on paper towels
  4. In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of tomato sauce.  Arrange the eggplant slices side by side, covering the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan.  Spread some of the tomato sauce(about ⅓) evenly on top of the eggplants, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, some basil leaves and Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup) and some pepper to taste.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of eggplants and finish with the remaining tomato sauce and parmesan (no mozzarella) 
  5. Bake covered with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Let it rest at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Note: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size.  Their skin should be smooth and shiny.  Eggplants are sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.  You can leave eggplants at room temperature for a day or two with no ill effects.  After that, refrigerate them, but not for too long, at about 10°C (50°F).  Also, do not use fresh mozzarella cheese in this recipe, it has too much liquid in it.  I would suggest using a pizza mozzarella, if you can find it.  Caciocavallo cheese and Provolone cheese are good substitutes for pizza mozzarella.  Also, if you do not want to fry the eggplants, you can grill them (but I would recommend the fried ones, they are much tastier and more appetizing!).  -Paola


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