As you can probably tell, I love my food. And when anyone asks me what my favourite dish is, I find it almost impossible to decide…and then my mind drifts to this dish…Parmigiana di Melanzane. This is a classic Italian dish incorporating my favourite ingredients…aubergine (eggplant), tomato and parmesan. I remember the first time I ate it when I was working in an Italian restaurant as a school girl. I couldn’t believe anything could taste so good! The smokiness of the soft aubergines, the punchy, sweet tomato sauce and the richness of the parmesan which ends up in strings as you lift your fork to your mouth. I adore it.
Last weekend I was out food shopping when I saw a basket of beautiful, plump, shiny, deep purple aubergines. They looked like a work of art. I had to have them. This dish popped into my mind immediately. I knew I had parmesan in my fridge, chopped tomatoes in my cupboard and fresh cherry tomatoes in a bowl on my kitchen worktop. Alas, I completely forgot to buy some basil while I was out. I have killed my last 4 basil plants at an astonishingly fast rate lately so I’ve been steering clear of it. But I’m so used to having a plant by my kitchen window, I didn’t think to buy some more when I was out. So this recipe excludes it but if you’re going to make this at home, please include it as it really should have basil in it. I’ve included it in the ingredients list, you just won’t see it in my photos!
3 garlic gloves, crushed
6 tbsp olive oil
3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
200g (approx) cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 tbsp tomato purée
4 aubergines, trimmed and cut into long, 3-5mm thick slices
1 ball mozzarella, torn
150g parmesan, freshly grated
Generous handful of fresh basil to taste
Heat your oven to 200C/fan 180C/400F/gas 6. Start by making the tomato sauce…mix together the garlic and 4 tbsp of the olive oil and fry gently for 3 mins.
Tip in the tomatoes, then simmer for 8 mins, stirring every now and then.
Stir in the tomato purée. Simmer for about half an hour, or until the sauce is thick and rich. Season well with salt and pepper, and a little sugar to taste.
Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan or frying pan until its very hot. I personally prefer a griddle as it gives the aubergines that lovely charred, stripy look. Brush a few of the aubergines with a little oil, then add to the pan.
Cook over a high heat until well browned and cooked through, about 5-7 mins. Turn them halfway through cooking.
When griddling or frying aubergine slices, you’ll find that they will absorb any amount of oil instantly. Don’t be tempted to add more! As they cook, aubergines release their juices along with some of the absorbed oil.
Lift onto kitchen paper and do the next batch.
When all the aubergines are cooked, lay a few of them in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, then spoon over some sauce.
Dot with the torn mozzarella and sprinkle with Parmesan and basil leaves.
Add seasoning, then repeat this process with the remaining ingredients.
Finally, finish off the dish with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan, then bake for 30 mins or until the topping is bubbling and golden.
What I love about this dish is that its easy. Yes, it takes a bit of time to griddle all the slices of aubergine but once that’s done, its a simple task of layering the dish. This is a lovely dish to make on a Saturday morning if you want to serve it that night. Ideally, I like to make this dish a day before I want to serve it as the flavours get time to develop.
It also freezes really well so I tend to make it in big batches and freeze it in portions.