Parmigiana Di Melanzane

From Cucina Napoletana: 100 Recipes from Italy’s Most Vibrant City (Interlink Books, 2008)

Possibly one of Naples’ best-known traditional dishes, and taken all over the world by the waves of migrants seeking a new life after World War II, parmigiana di melanzane is as tasty as it is familiar. Salting the eggplants before cooking is the key to success – otherwise you will end up with watery eggplants that fall apart when sliced. It is also important to press each layer down firmly when you are assembling the ingredients for baking.

Serves 4

2-1/4 lb large eggplants
olive oil for cooking
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2-1/4 lb ripe tomatoes, preferably plum, peeled and chopped (see note)
10 oz mozzarella cheese
2-3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Cut the eggplants into thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander. preferably overnight, to draw out the excess water. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Heat enough light olive oil for shallow-frying in a pan over medium-high heat and add the eggplant slices in a single layer. Shallow-fry on both sides for a few minutes until the slices start to brown slightly. Make sure that the oil is hot before adding the eggplants to the pan. so that they do not absorb too much oil. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Make a tomato sauce by heating a little oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft and transparent, before adding the tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook for 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken up and reduced into a pulpy sauce.
  3. As soon as the sauce is ready, arrange alternate layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, slices of mozzarella, and Parmesan in a greased baking dish. Make sure that you press down the ingredients well, so that you end up with compacted layers. Finish off with a layer of sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the ingredients to set slightly, then cut into individual portions while still in the dish. Carefully slide out onto serving plates using a spatula, and serve hot.

Peeling tomatoes It is not such an onerous task, peeling fresh tomatoes. Simply score the skin slightly with a sharp knife, blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds or so until the skin starts to soften and split, then refresh in cold water. This makes it far easier to use a sharp knife to peel away the skin.