This recipe is one of the very few vegetarian dinners that my meat loving husband will leave work on time for. It isn’t quick but it is easy – because it only needs a few everyday ingredients. The dish originates in Italy and really shows off what the Italians do well. By that I mean combining fresh simple ingredients to make a hearty healthy dish.
In the words of Jamie Oliver (who also has his own version) it’s a ‘scrumptious Italian veggie bake’.
A bit about eggplants
Eggplant is part of the nightshade family. The British call it ‘aubergine’ and in India it’s known as ‘brinjal’. I was surprised to find out that more than 80% of the world’s eggplant is cultivated in two countries – China and India. Eggplants, like tomatoes, grow hanging from the vines of a plant. Eggplants are a great source of fibre, are low in fat and high in antioxidants.
What turns this from a good dinner to an amazing one is using the best quality ingredients you can find. This means firm eggplants, premium buffalo mozzarella, aged Italian parmesan, fresh basil, home-made breadcrumbs and organic tomatoes.
The ingredients here create a parmigiana that serves three to six people depending on whether you’re preparing a light lunch or a satisfying dinner.
- Three large firm eggplants/aubergines (total weight 800g to 1kg)
- A jar of tomato passata (ideally organic and around 700ml)
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
- 200g or so of buffalo mozzarella (or cows milk bocconcini)
- 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of freshly grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup of fresh breadcrumbs (ideally home-made from sourdough bread)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Steps to prepare
1. Slice the eggplants lengthways – aim for slices that are around 70mm to 100mm in depth. Spread the eggplant over a couple of baking trays (with minimal overlap) and generously season with salt.
2. Allow the eggplant to stand for 30 minutes or so to allow the salt to draw out the moisture. It’s also a good idea to bring the mozzarella to room temperature at this stage and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
3. Using a few paper towels remove the moisture from the eggplant and then pop them into the oven for around 15 minutes.
4. While the eggplant is cooking add the tomato passata to a pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes to reduce it. At the same time you can grate the Parmesan and mix it in with the breadcrumbs.
5. Remove the eggplant from the oven and allow it to cool. But keep the oven on at 180C. Lightly oil a lasagne or Pyrex dish with olive oil. You’ll need a dish that’s around 30cm by 20cm with a height of at least 5cm.
6. Clear a work surface and have all of your components within arms reach. Lightly tear the basil and add it to the tomato sauce along with salt and pepper.
7. Prepare the first layer. Spread a layer of eggplant slices across the bottom of your dish, trying not to leave more than a few small gaps. Use around 1/3 of the eggplant. Spread 1/2 of the tomato sauce over the eggplant. Then tear 1/2 the mozzarella into even chunks and add evenly across the top. Sprinkle over 1/4 of the Parmesan and breadcrumb mixture.
8. Repeat step 7 again to build the second layer.
9. Finally top the second layer with the remaining eggplant slices and then sprinkle the remaining breadcrumb and parmesan mix on the top.
10. Add your eggplant parmigiana to the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Keep an eye on it from 25 minutes onwards to avoid it overcooking. You’re looking for it to be bubbly and golden.
I like my eggplant parmigiana served hot – straight from the oven. The warm mozzarella is so stringy. But you can also serve it cold.
- Replace the fresh basil with dried oregano.
- Add a small onion and clove or two of garlic as a base to the tomato sauce.
By Feast Wisely
- You don’t have to use tomato passata. I’ve also made this dish with canned tomatoes and ripe fresh tomatoes. With fresh tomatoes you do need to chop and cook them in a pan first.
- To make your home-made breadcrumbs dry out two or three slices of sourdough bread and then use a blender to make breadcrumbs.
- Don’t get too hung up on precision with the layering. If you forget to add one ingredient within a layer don’t deconstruct everything. Just keep going. Extra ingredients? Add another layer if your dish is deep enough.
- I’ve often prepared this in individual serving dishes. It can be tricky getting the eggplant slices to fit but the result is impressive. This also allows you to cater for individual preferences for different levels of cheesiness.
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