I have always loved eggplant cooked any which way, but this Italian classic is really one of my favourites. (Running a very close second would have to be the way my mother crumbed slices with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then fried them).
Some people like to make this recipe a bit ‘lighter’ by not frying the eggplant slices, but if I have time, I usually make it as per tradition. This morning was no exception…
- 4-5 large eggplant sliced 1cm thick
- 1.5 litres tomato pasta sauce
- flour (1-2 cups)
- 5 individual packets of mozzarella (circa 125g each) roughly chopped
- bunch of fresh basil
- olive oil + sunflower oil for shallow frying
- 150g grated parmesan cheese
- If possible make your tomato pasta sauce the night before. This will help have a more developed flavour for the final dish. You can buy pasta sauce, but it’s so easy to make, and mine is super easy. I used 1 x 1 litre bottle of ‘passata di pomodoro’ (tomato puree) plus 500ml of ‘polpa’ which is a more chunky consistency of tomato puree (diced tomato). Pour these into a large saucepan, add about 125ml of olive oil, 2-3 stock cubes, about 6 fresh basil leaves and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer for at least an hour. Any extra can be used for pasta sauce, or be frozen to be used later.
- Sprinkle salt all over eggplant slices and stack them in a dish or colander. Let rest for circa 15minutes, and then rinse each slice and pat dry with paper kitchen towel. Coat each slice with flour.
- I prefer to use 50% olive oil and 50% sunflower oil for frying the eggplant slices. Fry each slice on either side until slightly golden, and place on thick paper towel when done. Between each layer of fried eggplant, I use 2 sheets of paper towel. (When making this, I use almost a whole roll of paper towel). You don’t want your finished parmigiana to be too oily, so this step is quite important. Cook in batches, and add extra oil throughout as necessary.
- Spoon a little sauce to cover base of large baking dish. Arrange eggplant slices, keeping them close together. Sprinkle with mozzarella, then spoon sauce over and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Add some fresh, hand torn basil leaves. Keep repeating (I managed three layers), and finish with sauce, mozzarella and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese and some extra basil.
- Place in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 45minutes or until all cheese on top has melted and is golden.
- You could prepare this the day before and place in oven just before you wish to eat it. I often make too much and freeze a portion after it has cooked and it really is great to have some of this in the freezer for those evenings when you seriously can’t bring yourself to cook. (And I know it happens to all of us)!
- Serve hot with some extra fresh basil. Eat it as is, or serve it on top of some pasta like my Aunty Nancy would often do. Make sure you have some crusty Italian bread on hand, warm from the oven to clean your plate, or as we say here, “fare la scarpetta”!