Sunday, February 04, 2007

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
2 onions
1/4 lbs. (115 g) grated Pecorino (or Parmesan if you like) Cheese
a stem of Basil (about 15 leaves)
Olive Oil

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.


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Blogger Lexcen said...

This reminds me of the classic Greek recipe moussaka. The Greek word for eggplant is "melidzana". The Turks have a version called musakka and the arabs have musaqqa.

8:18 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Lexcen You are right on. It should also be noted that while the other cultures influenced Sicily's culinary culture Sicily also introduced variations into the visitors habit.

6:29 AM

Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

The dish looks amazing. I haven't been to Sicily yet but it's def. on my list of places to visit.

10:08 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Ragazza Sicily is surely a great place to visit. Try the local foods even though they may seem a bit strange when described.

2:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although what you write is quite interesting, being of Italian heritage myself I respectfully refute your statements. Melanzane alla Parmigiana (also Mulignana a'Parmiggiana)is a Neapolitan dish and IS named for Parma, a cheese making region--not for the Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)in the recipe. It is, however, made all over Italy now. Parmigiano IS different than Parmigiana. The dish DOES have it's roots in the Greek and Arabic cuisines--this is obvious. As even Neapolitan cuisine uses typical Mediterranean vegetables and herbs by way of Sicily. In the so-called Sicilian dialect it's Maranciane a'Parmiciana. By the way, my Sicilian family always makes it with mozzarella. Curiously, I've never heard of alla Persiana. Not starting a war, justing commenting on your Blog.

3:24 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Anon I always appreciate comments and am glad you took the time.

As with all things deeply rooted in the traditions and culture of several thousand years there are different ideas floating around about their origins.

I try to do extensive research on each article, understand the context and from the various versions understand which version seems most probable. If there are writings, such as with Mozzarella di Bufala, the origin is given to the most antique official document.

I have not had the version with mozzarella in Sicily and I would think that it is a rather recent change since Mozzarella di Bufala dates back to only the 1500s and would not have been easily transported, without going bad, for another 200 years.

Not to doubt, I am always excited to discuss and learn. Please stop by, and comment, often.

4:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see someone else follows this recipe. Mom, who was born, raised, and learned to cook in Palermo, Sicily, used to make this the same way, and I've followed her recipe for years, without mozzarella. Most Americans think that because their few Italian favorites (lasagna, baked ziti, manicotti, pizza, etc.) contain mozzarella, then so should this dish. Personally I think that mozzarella masked the wonderful taste of the eggplant, Parmiggiano, basil, and tomatoes. There's a lot more to Italian cooking than just mounds of mozzarella.

I want to share a secret with you. I make sure that, when I fry the last few slices if eggplant, there is a few tablesppons of left over oil in the pan to use to make the sauce. It holds the flavor of the eggplant and enriches the taste of the sauce. I also don't bake it in the oven after I prepare it in a casserole. I usually find that it's perfect at that point. I bet you agree with me, when I say that this dish is even better the next day served cold and with crusty Italian bread.

8:29 PM

Blogger Steve said...

My mother's fafilly is from sicilly, but she was taught to make Eggplant parmagiana from my fathers mother who was born in naples. Her version contains both mozzerella and ricotta chese between each layer, and Romano grated cheese. My grandmother would roll over in her grave at the thought of the eggplant being 1/2 inch thick!. Her eggplant was sliced paper thin, like delli coldcuts. The eggplant was fried without the skin. It was dipped in egg, and then in flour, not bread crumbs. It was then assembled, many layers thick, like a lasgna without meat.

7:08 AM


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