Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aubergine/Eggplant Parmigiana

This is one of the dishes that has a confusing origin, people (including myself) thought that the name suggested that it's from Parma, but in fact wiki suggests it's Sicily and Campania that lay claims to it, which makes sense considering the ingredients! :)
layering the ingredients

I have no idea if my version is traditional, in fact I'm sure it's not, but the point is that it tastes good no?  And is made with healthy, fresh ingredients?  AND as a special bonus - this dish is VERY low carb! :D  here we go! :)


Aubergines (eggplant/melanzane/brungiel) - 3 or 4 large ones, cut into rounds, 1cm thick.   
6 fresh, very ripe, red tomatoes (chopped very roughly) plus a tin of whole tomatoes in juice (use 2 tins instead, if you don't have access to superb fresh tomatoes) - use Roma tomatoes (aka zenguli in Malta).
Kunserva (concentrated tomato paste if not available). 
Basil - plenty of it, leave the leaves whole but remove them from the stalks.
olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper.
Mozzarella (i used regular pizza mozzarella, and have also been known to use fresh mozzarella (make sure you drain it well!) or even fresh pecorino or provolone dolce when in a fix!)
some grated salty cheese (like parmiggiano reggiano, pecorino romano, ricotta salata or the like)

Preparing the Eggplants:  place in a large bowl, fill the bowl to the top with water, sprinkle a good tablespoon of rocksalt over them, and leave to soak for 30 minutes or so (while you prepare the tomato sauce etc).  you will need to place a weight on top of the bowl, as the aubergines are too buoyant to stay under the water.. I used a plate, then placed a bowl filled with water on top.  This will ensure that all the bitterness of the aubergine is gone, and also, that they will not dry out or absorb TOO much oil when grilling. 

The tomato sauce: Meanwhile, chop plenty of garlic, and add it to a small saucepan with a glug of olive oil on a low heat.  once that has softened slightly, add a small amount of raw sugar (about a teaspoon), stir until dissolved, then add a good tablespoon of kunserva.  Stir fry this for a little while, until the kunserva smells like its starting to cook properly.  Then turn up the heat, add the fresh tomatoes and stir around.  This sauce is meant to be chunky, so do not chop them up finely, i cut each (large) tomato into 8.  stir around for a bit, then when slightly softened, add the tomato tin of tomatoes.  Wait until it starts to bubble, then turn the heat right down, season, cover and let simmer for around 10 minutes. The sauce should be cooked but not simmered too much, it will continue cookin in the oven. There's nothing wrong with throwing a few torn basil leaves into the sauce at this point. 

Slice the mozzarella into very thin slices.

Wash the basil leaves, and drain them on kitchen paper (or run through a salad spinner until dry)

Drain the aubergine.  Place a single layer of aubergine slices on a flat baking dish, brush generously with olive oil, and place under a hot grill until golden brown.  Flip, brush with oil again, and grill the other side. Once they are done, place them on a plate and sprinkle lightly with some nice seasalt.  Continue until all aubergines are done.  If you have a gas bbq, his job is MUCH easier to do by bbqing the slices all at one go on there. You can also panfry them, but i find that this is a hassle.  It's important that the slices aren't too thick, nad that they cook through under the grill.  I have something against not completely cooked aubergine, it's rubbery, foamy and spongy and bitter, rather than soft, silky yet crunchy and sweet.

nice and golden and ready for the layering

Building the dish:
Place a ladle of sauce on the bottom of a medium sized square/rectangle baking dish.  spread around (this will rpevent aubergines from sticking).
Place a layer of aubergines over the sauce, overlapping slightly to ensure that all the dish is covered with them.
Spoon some sauce careful over these aubergines, spread it around gently.  Place a decent size slice of mozzarella on every piece of aubergine, to ensure that it's evenly spread.  Place a basil leaf on every mozzarella slice.

the colours in this dish captivate me
You should have used more than half the mozzarella by far, and in fact not have that much left at this point.  Chop the remaining mozzarella roughly. 
Place another layer of Aubergine and some sauce over, and sprinkle the remaining chopped mozzarella.  sprinkle some of the parmiggiano (or whatever salty cheese you have at hand), and place in a hot oven for around 20 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbly.


Serve a giant slab of it with a freshly made leafy salad :) 

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