The first time I tried this dish was many years ago in a small family restaurant in San Gimignano and it blew my mind. Just like with any Italian dish, perfection is achieved with very few ingredients, whereas the flavors combination is extremely complex. These ingredients are extremely basic and attainable by anyone, and somehow they taste much better in Italy.
What if the colors of the Italian flag were derived from these basic ingredients, so common in the Italian cuisine? Red would be tomatoes. White would be pasta or cheese, mozzarella to be specific. Green would be basil.
Melanzane Parmigiana features all of them: tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, basil and one more ingredient, as the name suggests: Melanzane aka Eggplant. Eggplant, or aubergine, is an important player in the Italian cuisine, even if it doesn't have a color in the flag 😊. Its combination with tomatoes, when executed correctly, can do wonders in your mouth. It takes a little time to make, but is absolutely worth it.
✔️ 3 big eggplants
✔️ 1 head worth of garlic cloves
✔️ 8-10 big ripe tomatoes
✔️200 grams grated parmesan
✔️ 100 grams grated mozzarella
✔️ 4-5 tbsp breadcrumbs
✔️8-10 basil leaves
✔️ oregano for seasoning
✔️ olive oil
✔️ salt, pepper
✔️ balsamic vinegar
First, lets make the tomato sauce. You can use one from a can, they are great. But this time I made one from fresh tomatoes. It's not that hard. Just get ripe tomatoes and peel them using the water technique. Make an X with a knife on top of every tomato and throw it into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds or until you see the peel starting to separate from the tomato where you made the cut. Transfer to ice water to prevent the tomato from cooking. When it gets cold, peel it easily and remove the stems.
Throw the peeled tomatoes into a blender with the garlic and olive oil. Then mash it in the blender. Transfer into a pan and cook on low for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is reduced. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and balsamic sauce.
Next, the eggplant. Cut them into 1 cm slices and arrange on paper towels. We want to get the bitterness out of the eggplant. To do that, sprinkle the slices with salt and wait. In just a few minutes, like magic, you will see the salt grains turn into liquid on top of the aubergine slice. This is the salt absorbing the bitterness. Tap every slice with paper towel to absorb the liquid and throw it away. Repeat the same process for the other side of the eggplant slices.
Preheat a heavy pan on high, coat with a little oil and scorch the eggplant slices from both sides. While on the pan, try to squeeze the slices with the back of the spatula to get more liquids out. You will hear a tsssss and the slice will become more flacid. Do this for all slices. No need to season them.
Time to assemble the layers, just like in a lasagna. Get a glass or clay baking dish of your choice that will be able to contain all of the eggplant and sauce. Arrange a layer of sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and top with a layer of eggplant slices. Repeat until one of the ingredients runs out, but try to distribute them evenly, so that you will have at least 3-4 nice layers. Cover the top layer with the remaining sauce.
For the topping, mix the bread crumbs with olive oil, garlic powder and oregano, until the crumbs are evenly soaked. Sprinkle the layers in the baking dish with mozzarella and parmesan and top with the breadcrumbs mixture.
Ready to go into the oven:
Transfer the dish to preheated oven on 190 C / 375 F and bake for 30-40 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly.
Now it's ready to be eaten, right away or after it cools off a little. Just cut it into slices and enjoy. It tastes as good as it looks,