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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Melanzane alla parmigiana (Italian aubergine - eggplant - casserole with Parmesan)

I truly think this is the best thing I've tasted in a long, long time (previous stuff on the blog included). Eggplant (aubergine) is one of the best veggies out there, and the combination with Italian cheeses (Parmesan and mozzarella), basil and tomato sauce is heavenly. It should be on the menu at least twice a week by my book.
The recipe is traditional in Southern Italy and it spread across the globe. It comes in different variations (more loosely called simply Parmigiana), but the one based upon eggplant is the earliest recipe created. 
Adapted from Jamie Oliver, via the lovely girls from Kiss the Cook.

Ingredients (serves 4, theoretically, but in our case... 2 :D)
  • 3 medium-large eggplants
  • 500 ml tomato paste (or 1,5 kg fresh tomatoes)
  • 375 g mozzarella (3 pieces)
  • 125 g grated Parmesan
  • olive oil
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt

You'll have a bit of work to do but we guarantee you won't regret it :). First, wash the eggplants and cut off the ends. 

Cut each in half, then slice them lengthwise:

Sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice, then place them in a colander to drain excess moisture (and, most importantly, drain the bitterness out of 'em):

Peel the garlic cloves, slice them finely and put them in a little olive oil to fry (use a large pan!):

After it's softened, add all the tomato paste (or tomatoes, minced) :

Let it boil on medium heat for 10 minutes (or 20 if they're fresh tomatoes). You may add 1 teaspoon of sugar to the sauce if you think it's too sour. 
Now, return to the eggplant slices. Drain them even further by pressing them between paper towels or clean kitchen towels until no more juice comes out at a light pressing. Then heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and start frying them gently, on low-medium heat:

Don't fry too many at once, they all need to touch the pan's surface directly. Turn them to roast on the other side as well, and after they're soft and golden brown on both sides (it will take about 5 minutes on each side), fry the next batch of eggplant slices until you're done. Meanwhile, get the mozzarella, drain the water and start slicing the pieces as thinly as you can:

When the tomato sauce is done, remove from heat and immediately add about 1/3 of the basil leaves, torn with your hands:

After all the mozzarella is sliced and all the eggplant slices are fried, prepare a deep baking tray or casserole. Preheat oven to 220-240 degrees C (or gas 6). Start filling the tray by putting a bottom layer of fried eggplant:

Continue with a layer of tomato sauce (4-5 tablespoons), then fresh basil leaves, torn by hand, then mozzarella slices:

Then sprinkle a layer of grated Parmesan.

Then another one of eggplant slices:

.. and so on. You get the picture. Continue putting layers, in that order - eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan - making sure you finish with a layer of Parmesan. Then put the whole thing in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

... It smells delicious. And it's about to get more delicious in a moment, trust me. Just put it on serving plates and.. dig in! :)

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