Eggplant (or aubergine) parmigiana is one of those dishes that evokes the Italian south wherever it’s eaten: full of the flavours of the Vesuvian region’s sun-drenched kitchen gardens, topped with meltingly good fior di latte cheese and sprigs of basil, it’s Naples on a plate.
If you can find good fresh ingredients where you live, it’s also a recipe that can be made any time of year, even in winter, when it’s a surefire antidote to cold-weather blues. Le Sirenuse’s executive chef, Matteo Temperini, offers a healthier than usual version in the following recipe, by limiting the flour which is used to dust the eggplant slices before serving.
First peel the eggplants lengthways, leaving alternate strips of skin on – you’re aiming for a striped effect. Then slice them into rounds just under 1cm thick (around a quarter of an inch). Sprinkle coarse sea salt sparingly on the cut surfaces, and leave them to sweat for around 20 minutes.
While they’re sweating, lightly fry the crushed garlic cloves in a little oil, add this (oil and all) to the tomato passata, and stir. This is also a good time to turn the oven on: set it to 200°C.
Rinse the salt off the aubergines, pat them dry, then sprinkle a little flour on both sides of each eggplant slice. Pour the oil into a frying pan, put it on a medium heat, and when it’s warmed up, add the flour-dusted eggplant slices and fry until golden on both sides. Arrange the fried slices on absorbent kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil. The inset photo shows the three stages of preparation of the eggplant rounds. From top to bottom: salted; lightly dusted with flour; fried to perfection.
Now the assembly of this multi-layered dish begins. In a buttered casserole dish, build up:
1) a layer of tomato passata, just enough to barely cover the bottom
2) a layer of fried eggplants and basil
3) a layer of parmesan and fior di latte
4) another layer of eggplants and basil
5) a generous covering of passata, with a final sprinkle of basil
6) the left-over slices of fior di latte, and the rest of the parmesan.
Put the two knobs of butter on top, place in the oven, and bake for around 40 minutes.
This is a dish better served warm than hot: so let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.