Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmesan or Persian Eggplant
So much controversy over such a simple and elegant recipe. It should be obvious that Eggplant Parmesan is native to Parma and uses Parmesan cheese, I mean can’t you read the name? To understand we must look at the origins. Eggplant Parmesan is Sicilian and while widely used and part of most southern Italian regional cuisine there is no doubt that its origins are from the sun baked island of Sicily. Following the unification of the Italian peninsula and the successive Italianization of local dialects the traditional name of this recipe became Parmigiana di Melanzane from the Sicilian dialect word of Parmiciana.
Parmiciana indicates a list of ingredients used in recipes alla Persiana, or Persian. Sicily has been occupied several times, over the centuries, by the Persian Empires and has incorporated Persian ingredients and recipes into its culinary culture. Eggplant is widely used in Sicilian cooking, from tomato sauces to being stuffed with meat and breadcrumbs. The Eggplant is an integral part of the island’s culture.
Another point of contention for this dish is what the eggplant is supposed to taste like. My mother has always loved Eggplant Parmesan. Since the family would not eat it, I remember that incredibly bitter dish, she would order it on every occasion when in an Italian restaurant. Finally my parents came to visit us in Rome. I thought that this would be a marvelous opportunity for her to try the one and original Eggplant Parmesan. Unfortunately she ate only one slice. She did not like it, this dish was not her idea of Eggplant Parmesan. Perhaps it was the fact that Eggplant is not bitter if prepared properly or that freshly grated Pecorino cheese is much more flavorful than the Kraft Parmesan in a can used in most restaurants or the fresh Mozzarella di Bufala instead of the US Mozzarella.
Well, so much for controversy, this recipe is marvelous. Whether or not you think you know Eggplant this is recipe will be different than just about anything you have had in the US. For those who hate Eggplant, this is a good thing, for those who love Eggplant Parmesan from Olive Garden, be aware that it will not be the same.
8 Medium Eggplant
2 lbs. (about 900 g) mature tomatoes or canned tomatoes
1/4 lbs. (115 g) grated Pecorino (or Parmesan if you like) Cheese
a stem of Basil (about 15 leaves)
Note: the original Sicilian recipe does not use Mozzarella however other Southern Italian recipes do. If you want to add Mozzarella slice ½ lbs. (225 g) of Mozzarella and add a few slices each time you add the Pecorino.
Some local recipe variations will also cut four boiled eggs into slices and add them between the layers of Eggplant.
The Cucina d’Oro, one of the Italian Culinary Bibles, adds ¼ tsp peperoncino (1 peperoncino crushed), 4 cloves of garlic, and ¼ tsp Oregano but does not use onions. These ingredients are used instead of the onions when making the sauce.
Cut the Eggplant in ¼ inch thick slices. Soak in salted water for several hours. This will release the bitter flavor.
Drain the slices and pat dry. In a heavy skillet fry the Eggplant slices in abundant Olive Oil. Let rest on a wire rack or paper towel.
Mince the onions. In a saucepan, add two tablespoons Olive Oil. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Break the tomatoes with a fork and add 3 Basil leaves. Cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.
In a casserole baking pan spread a bit of sauce on the bottom. Add layer of eggplant slices. Make a layer of sauce, grated pecorino and a few basil leaves over the eggplant. Add another layer of eggplant slices. Continue to just under the top of the dish. Close with sauce, Pecorino and a few more leaves of basil.
Cook for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 F oven. Serve warm but not hot.
Raffaella always places additional grated Pecorino on the table so our guests can add to taste.
A great wine for this dish would be the Tenuta Rapitala’ Nadir.
Tags: Gourmet Foods Eggplant Al Forno Carnival Sicily Italian Recipes Food and Wine Travel Italy