The Lost Art of Eggplant Parmesan: Parmigiana di Melanzane

Courtesy of Clide Beswick
Photo courtesy of Clyde Beswick

Eggplant Parmesan is a classic Italian-American food that has lost its place as an important family dish. The Southern Italians used eggplant as a substitute for meats as the texture of eggplant mimics the texture of tender meats.

As Italian Americans were slowly exposed to the riches of America, Eggplant Parmesan lost its first place status on the Italian-American table. In fact, there are whole groups of Americans that have either never eaten eggplant or who don’t like it because they have had bad versions. But like the bread-less meatball and Chicken or Meatball Parmesan sandwiches, it’s an over-Americanized version of the perfect Italian dish. Let’s change that.

Making perfect Eggplant Parmigiana is easy and impresses the American pallet.

One tray for 8 to 10 people.

Ingredients and equipment:

  • 3 pounds Italian eggplant (about 2 medium sized eggplant)
  • 3 tablespoons of coarse salt
  • 4 cups of pureed tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ cups of extra virgin oil olive
  • 10 ounces thinly sliced mozzarella (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Note: Use an 8 ½ x 11 inch Pyrex dish to cook the eggplant. If you use a deeper casserole dish perhaps to serve in at the table, you will probably need to cook it longer to evaporate the liquid.

Directions:

Cut off the eggplant ends and slice lengthwise into ½-inch thick pieces. Layer the slices in a colander and sprinkle each with the coarse salt. Set the colander in the sink or on a plate for 30 minutes. The salt will draw the water out of the eggplant and allow it to fry more easily. After 30 minutes, rinse each slice of eggplant under cold water and pat as dry as possible with a dry towel or paper towel.

In a large skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil over a high heat until the oil is just smoking. Fry a few pieces of eggplant at a time until each is golden brown. If there is any water left on the eggplant, the oil will spatter so be careful. Once golden brown, remove the eggplant to a rack on a plate or onto paper towels. Eggplant is notorious for drinking up lots of olive oil, so if you run low, just add more oil and heat back to the smoking point.

In the Pyrex dish, spread about ¾-cup of tomato sauce on bottom. Place a layer of eggplant on the sauce, then a layer of half the mozzarella. Top with another ½ cup of sauce, ⅓-cup of Basil leaves and finally with ½ cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Repeat with second layer of eggplant, the remaining ½ cup of mozzarella, ½ cup of sauce, ⅓-cup of basil leaves and ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Finally, top with eggplant, basil, remaining sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes until bubbly. You want to bake this until the watery tomato liquid in the corners of the dish has greatly diminished.

Let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. This dish can be served at room temperature or warm.

Join the Conversation

  1. felixpapadakis says:

    Joey….I think this recipe sounds fabulous. I cannot wait to try it. I hate those Americanized versions of eggplant parm as well as lasagna al forno with that ricotta cheese filling. Tell me, could I adorn the top of this like I do with my lasagna with a simple bechamel sauce?

  2. I don’t think there are any rules in Italian cooking. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. Joe

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