It may look like summer, but we have had some cool days in Rome, unusual for late May. Our condominium just started using email, so my mailbox is abuzz with discussions about installing bicycle racks in the courtyard (very contentious in the past) and possibly some vegetable growing boxes on the roof terrace. The neighbours are nice, and there are dinners now and then, which is where I learned to make this melanzane alla parmigiana. Very tasty, but often a bit greasy, until our neighbour Mara instructed me on the superior, Neapolitan way to bake this.
Ingredients are key, she said. You need the medium purple striped aubergines, not the dark purple ones. The cheese should be fior di latte, a cow’s milk mozzarella, but only from a specific area near Naples. Otherwise you might as well not bother, apparently. All I know is that her melanzane alla parmigiana was rich in taste, but light in texture, and I asked how she managed that.
What Romans do wrong, it seems, is to fry the eggplant slices in olive oil directly. That soaks up the oil and makes them heavy and oil-laden. Some people dip the eggplant in flour, not recommended either. No, the trick is to beat a couple eggs, and dip the eggplant slices in that before frying them in peanut oil, then draining them on kitchen roll. Then you get crispy golden eggplant that is still light. Then she sent me home with two of the right kind of aubergines to try making it, which I did.
My version of Mara’s Melanzane alla parmigiana
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp olive oil
800 gr tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes
3 tbs tomato paste
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt, pinch of pepper
4-5 basil leaves
50 ml peanut oil
2 medium purple eggplants
300 grammes mozzarella (fior di latte, from cow’s milk), thinly sliced
Cut the aubergines lengthways into 4-5mm slices. Beat the eggs. Heat the oil, and dip each slice of aubergine briefly in the egg, allowing it to drip off, before drying it in the hot oil. When golden, turn and fry on other side. Stack the fried aubergine slices on a plate, 2-3 slices a time layered between paper towel to absorb oil.
In the meantime, make tomato sauce. Chop onion and garlic, fry gently in olive oil then add tomato. Add salt, pepper, sugar, basil, and tomato paste. Cook gently under lid 30 minutes or so.
Slice your mozzarella. Now, you have everything ready. Heat oven to 200C.
Take a large baking dish, and ladle in 4-5 generous spoons of tomato sauce. Add a layeer of fried aubergine slices, then mozzarella slices. Repeat layers: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, until you only have a little tomato sauce left to finish, and a little mozzarella to shred over the top. Bake 30 minutes at 200C until crusty, golden and bubbling.
I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday, with many thanks to the hosts: Angie @The Novice Gardener and cohosted by two brilliant bloggers, Dini @Giramuk’s Kitchen and Mollie, The Frugal Hausfrau. Many thanks!