Walter’s Variazione della Parmigiana, Illustrated: A Very Tasty Lighter Version

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: Enjoy!

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: Enjoy!

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmesan, is justly one of the favorite summer dishes throughout Italy. However, by modern standards the classic Neapolitan recipe is heavy, because the eggplant are fried before they receive their cheesy tomatoey seasoning. Walter Smittarello of the Antica Osteria Al Castello  in Sorio di Gambellara (near Vicenza) has developed a recipe that is lighter, extraordinarily elegant, and also easy to do.

I was at his restaurant because I had stopped to visit Michela Cariolaro and Carlo Sitiza of Palazzetto Ardi, and she invited me to come to a photo shoot at the Antica Osteria she was preparing several dishes for.

When I got there Walter’s wife Paola was laying sliced baked eggplant on baking tins, in rows of three. She prefers mauve-colored long eggplant rather than the purple variety because she finds them to be more delicately flavored.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: Tomato on the First Layer

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: Tomato on the First Layer

She had begun by peeling away strips of skin lengthwise with a potato peeler (reserve them) because if you don’t the skin will contract as the eggplant bakes, wrinkling the disks. The next step is to slice the eggplant crosswise into 3/4-inch (2 cm) slices, salt them to draw their bitter juices, and put them in a colander to drain for about four hours.

When the time was up she rinsed them, patted them dry, brushed them with olive oil, laid them on baking sheets, and baked them in a preheated 440 F (220 C) oven for 20 minutes, turning them after 10. And then she let them cool.

When I arrived she had laid them out in rows of three on a baking sheet and was spreading freshly made simple seedless tomato sauce over them.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: Spreading the Cheese

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: Spreading the Cheese

Once the disks are coated with a thin layer of tomato sauce, the next step is to put cheese over them. The traditional Neapolitan recipe calls for mozzarella (buffalo milk if possible), but getting really fresh buffalo milk mozzarella in the far Northeast is problematic. And, it’s heavier.

So Walter opted for Robiola, a very fresh mild creamy cheese, beaten in a bowl to make it even creamier. In its absence one could use cream cheese, adding heavy cream and working the mixture until it’s the consistency of thick whole yogurt. Paola was putting a healthy tablespoon of cheese into the center of each disk and spreading it some.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: A Drizzle of Basil Oil

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: A Drizzle of Basil Oil

The next step is a little olive oil, infused with fresh basil. It’s the sort of thing one can easily make: Take several fresh basil leaves, grind them to a paste in a mortar, and work about a half cup of olive oil into the paste. It’s something to be made and used because fresh basil will oxidize and spoil quickly in the oil; if you decide you want more you can always make more.

In terms of the amount on each layer, about a half teaspoon or so.

When you have finished drizzling olive oil over the eggplant, lay a second slice of eggplant slices (selected to be slightly less in diameter than the first) over the first.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: The second Layer...

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: The second Layer…

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the next layer of eggplant slices.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: And then Cheese...

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: And then Cheese…

After you have spread tomato, spread the cheese too, and then a half teaspoon of basil-infused oil.

Walter's Variazione alla Parmigiana: The Third Layer...

Walter’s Variazione alla Parmigiana: The Third Layer…

The next step is to top the eggplant Parmesan with a final slice that is again slightly smaller in diameter than those below. At this point, if need be you can refrigerate your eggplant for up to several hours, which means that if you’re planning a dinner party you can make Walter’s Variazione della Parmigiana largely ahead.

One more thing to do now, however: julienne the strips of eggplant peel you removed from the eggplant and fry them until crisp in hot oil, together with as many fresh basil leaves as you have mounds of eggplant parmisan — they will serve as garnish. Drain them on absorbent paper and set them aside.

Come time to finish the dish, bake the eggplant Parmesan in a preheated 360 F (180 C) oven for about 10 minutes. Top the baked eggplant Parmesan with a little more tomato sauce, dribbling it down the sides from the top — you don’t want to add the tomato sauce before baking because it will burn — and garnish with the julienned strips of eggplant peel and a basil leaf. Plate the eggplant Parmesan, decorating the dishes as you like (Paola used dabs of tomato and basil oil, and a dusting of dried tomato skins whirred to a red powder in a blender), and enjoy!

More Parmigiana:
Melanzane alla Parmigiana, the Traditional Recipe
A Lighter Version of Melanzane alla Parmigiana

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Categories: Antipasti and Starters, Eggplant, Illustrated Recipes And More

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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