Eggplant Parmesan, Melanzane alla Parmigiana

In introducing this greatest of Neapolitan dishes, Ms. Francesconi tells of going to a wonderful restaurant on the Isle of Ischia, long before it was taken over by hoards of tourists, to enjoy the Pirozzi Sisters’ Eggplant Parmesan. It had a special touch nobody could figure out; some said eggs, and others even suggested chocolate as the secret ingredient. Ms Francesconi closes her introduction with the hope that somebody, building on this recipe, will manage to equal that marvel of yesteryear.

To serve 4-6 enthusiastic diners:

  • 4 pounds (a scant 2 k) eggplant
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 2 1/2 pounds (1 k) ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
  • A small piece of onion, minced
  • Abundant basil
  • 3/4 pound (350 g) fresh mozzarella (buffalo milk if possible)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
  • Freshly grated pepper

Note: Since the wateriness of fresh tomatoes varies the above is a minimum. You can also use 3.6 pounds (1.5 k) canned tomatoes or 1 1/2 quarts (1.5 liters) bottled tomato sauce.

Chop the tomatoes, drain them well, and cook them with the minced onion and a sprig of basil. When they have softened, drain them and put them through a food mill, then cook them a little more over low heat, without letting the sauce thicken too much. Salt the sauce when it is done and don’t add oil, as the eggplant will have absorbed enough as it fries.

Peel the eggplants and cut them into quarter-inch slices; salt them and place them between to plates to press out the bitter juices. After 1 to 2 hours rinse them and pat them dry. In the mean time, heat a pot of oil almost to the smoking point, then fry the slices, a few at a time, removing them from the oil while they are still lightly colored. Set the slices upright in a rack to drain, then put them on a sheet of absorbent paper to remove all the oil you can.

Mince the basil and cut the mozzarella into thin slices, then cut the slices into strips.

Take a 10-inch diameter oven-proof dish that’s about 3 inches high and spread a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce over it. Next, beat the eggs with 2/3 cup of tomato sauce.

Arrange a third of the eggplant in the bottom of the dish, overlapping the slices slightly, and cover them with 2 tablespoons grated cheese, 5-6 pieces basil leaves, 2-3 tablespoons of the tomato-egg sauce, and half the mozzarella. Repeat this process with another layer. Lay down a third layer, covering it with the remaining grated cheese, egg-tomato sauce, and, if need be a little more tomato sauce to cover.

Bake in a slow oven for about an hour, turning the heat up in the last few minutes to lightly brown the top. The dish should not be eaten hot – let it cool some, or better yet, entirely. It will be better the next day, and even better the day after that.

Variations:

  • Flavor the eggplant with a well cooked, but not excessively thick tomato sauce made with oil and minced onion. Bake the assembled dish at length in a hot oven, and brown it well.
  • Make a thick tomato sauce with no oil, heat the assembled dish over a low flame rather than in the oven, and remove it from the fire as soon as it begins to bubble.
  • Low fat: Rather than fry the eggplant, microwave it (see your microwave’s booklet for instructions) and don’t put any oil in the tomato sauce. Make the rest as normal.

Yield: 6-8 servings Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmesan.

More Parmigiana:
A Lighter Version of Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Walter’s Variazione della Parmigiana, Illustrated

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Categories: Antipasti and Starters, Campanian Vegetables, Eggplant

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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