Cucina Calabrese: Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)
The summer and fall months are a great time for eggplants. I love eggplant, but back in Canada I didn’t eat them often because I didn’t know how to prepare them outside of grilling them on the BBQ. Being here in Italy, I eat them much more often especially when I’m visiting my Zia in Carpanzano.
I’ve been saying for years that I wanted to learn how to make “Parmigiana di Melanzane” or Eggplant Parmesan and this summer my Zia offered to show me her delicious version. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated but it’s actually not too difficult, you just need a bit of time, patience and like anything, practice.
There are many different ways that this dish is prepared, but here is how it’s done in my Zia’s house.
Here’s what you’ll need:
5-6 melanzane (eggplants)
2 bottles of Tomato Passata (Tomato Puree)
Caciocavallo or Provolone cheese
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Flour (as needed)
1-2 cloves of garlic
Great, now let’s get started…
Step 1: Prepping the Eggplant (Part 1)
The first and most important thing you need to do is get your hands on some eggplants. For this particular recipe, you want to find oblong or round eggplants that have a shiny, firm deep-purple skin. Eggplants tend to hold a lot of moisture, so before we do anything we have to sweat out or drain the excess moisture out of the eggplant. To do that, you want to cut the eggplant into approximately 1 cm thick slices. Layer the slices into a large bowl being sure to salt each layer generously with salt. Don’t be afraid, most of the salt will be rinsed away later. Once you have cut up all the eggplants, you want to put a weight on them. You may have to get creative here. We placed a large plate directly on the eggplants and on top of it another large bowl filled with water (you could also use a pot full of water depending on the size of your bowl).
Let the salted eggplants sit for 3-4 hours. If you have kids, they will love seeing the water slowly being released from the eggplants.
Step 2: Prepping the Tomato Sauce
While you wait for your eggplants to be ready, you can begin to prepare the tomato sauce. The sauce is very simple. In a pot, pour a bit of oil and once it’s heated add a clove or two of garlic (you can mince it or put it in whole and then remove it later – it’s all a matter of preference). Let the garlic turn golden, but be careful that it doesn’t burn. Then add about 2 litres of homemade tomato conserve or tomato puree (also referred to as tomato passata but not to be confused with tomato paste!). Into the sauce, you want to also add some fresh basil and a little bit of salt to taste. Cover the sauce and let it simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes to an hour or until it has thickened. Don’t forget to check it every so often and give it a stir.
Step 3: Prepping the Eggplant (Part 2)
Now we are ready to finish prepping the eggplants! First things first, rinse the eggplant very well under cold water to remove the excess salt. Give them a good squeeze to get out all that extra moisture. Don’t worry if they break or rip a bit.
For this next part, you will need two bowls. In one bowl, add flour which you will be using to coat the eggplant slices. In the other bowl, whisk about 5 or 6 eggs. If you need more, you can always add more later on. Take each slice and coat it first with flour and then with egg. Once you got them all battered up, you are ready to fry them. Use a deep frying pan and fry the battered eggplant using vegetable oil (or any oil with a high smoke point). The oil should be about 350-375 degrees F. Gently place a single layer of eggplants into your frying pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until they are golden. Remove them from the oil and lay them on a plate with paper towels to drain the excess oil.
Step 4: Assembling the Eggplant Parmesan
Before you begin to assemble the eggplant parmesan, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Now, we are ready to put it all together. Eggplant Parmesan is very much like lasagna in that it is layered. In a baking dish, spoon a layer of sauce on the bottom. Then place a layer of the fried eggplant; you can overlap the eggplant slices a bit. Add another light layer of sauce and then on top of that, add pieces of caciocavallo (or provolone cheese) and sprinkle parmesan cheese. Continue this pattern until you’ve made about 3 layers. The top of your parmesan should be eggplant slices and sauce. You can also sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese on top.
Place the baking dish in the oven and let it cook for about 30 minutes.
And there you have it, Eggplant Parmesan! Enjoy!
For another typical Calabria dish, you can check out my blog post for Polpette di Riso.