How do you make the perfect Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmigiana)? Well, Italians have been arguing over it for centuries, with Sicilians, Neapolitans and Parmigiani (people from Parma) all claiming historical ownership. Nobody may have the definitive answer. This delicious dish is pretty simple to prepare and cook, although it requires your step-by-step attention and of course, your love. Italian regions and towns each have their versions of Parmigiana. Here we explain the secrets behind the most traditional and delicious “Parmigiana di Melanzane”.
800 gr (1.7 lbs) of dark round eggplant
250 gr (0.6 lb) mozzarella cheese (fresh is best)
250 gr (8.8 oz) Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese
750 ml (3 cups) of tomato sauce (bottled tomato “Passata”)
200 gr (5.0 oz) all-purpose flour
10 leaves of basil
1 medium white onion
1 lt (4 cups) of sunflower oil
Fine ground Mediterranean salt
Coarse Mediterranean salt Black pepper
Mise en place:
Rinse the eggplant under cold running water and dry them with a clean cloth. Cut the top, dispose of it and cut the eggplant in slices of 1/4 inch thick (cut by keeping the eggplants upright!). Lay them in layers in a large colander, with a generous sprinkle of coarse salt in between each layer. Cover with a plate and put a weight on it. Set aside for at least an hour in a sink or drain board. This procedure will cause them to lose their bitterness and you will see liquids drain from them as the salt leaches it out.
Sift the flour in a bowl, then cover with paper towel.
On a cutting board, coarsely chop the onion. Coat the bottom of a medium-sized pot with extra virgin olive oil and brown the onion. Once the onion turns translucent, pour in all the tomato sauce, add a glass of water and a pinch of salt, stir it, cover with a lid and let it simmer over medium-high heat for 30 minutes.
Cut the mozzarella into ½ x ½ inch cubes and arrange them on a plate where you have placed two sheets of paper towel. This will eliminate excess milk from fresh mozzarella.
Now take a medium-sized frying pan, pour 4 cups of frying oil (preferably sunflower oil), and bring to a temperature of 350 °F (if you don’t have a deep-frying thermometer, it will be necessary to heat the oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes).
At this point, remove the weight from the eggplant and rinse one by one under cold running water, removing the salt. Arrange the eggplant slices on a kitchen towel and dab with paper towels to dry them.
Proceed as follows: flour three slices of eggplant and fry for about 3 minutes. Drain with the help of a skimmer and lay on a spacious surface covered with paper towels. Repeat this process until the eggplant slices are used up.
Once the cooking of the eggplant has been completed, turn the heat off under the tomato sauce and add 6 basil leaves in coarse pieces.
At this point proceed as follows:
1) Coat the bottom of a 8 x 10 inch rectangular baking dish with tomato sauce (2 small ladles)
2) Proceed with the first layer of eggplant, placed horizontally. Now add two small ladles of tomato sauce and cover the first layer. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese, and do the same with a part of the mozzarella cubes. (Note: consider the amount of Parmesan and the mozzarella cubes, they will be needed for each layer, including the topping!)
3) Now proceed with the second layer of eggplant, this time place perpendicular to the first layer (opposite direction as the first layer). Sprinkle with Parmesan and mozzarella cubes.
4) Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the surface of the baking dish.
5) Sprinkle the surface with Parmesan and mozzarella cubes and pepper to taste.
6) Bake at 400 °F for 20-25 minutes.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and let the Eggplant Parmigiana settle for about 10-15 minutes, then serve by adding a basil leaf for each portion.
This dish pairs nicely with a Cesanese red wine.