Better known in the United States as ‘eggplant parmesan’, la parmigiana is one of my specialties. Una mamma calabrese in Lamezia Terme, Italy taught me to make this quintessential summertime dish. It takes some time and patience to cook, but for me there is nothing more delicious on a summer evening.
I grew up eating heavy, cheesy eggplant parmesan that had tons of seeds and tasted bitter. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t a fan. This version is completely different. The eggplant isn’t breaded. There is no ricotta or mozzarella cheese. Less is more.
You start by slicing some eggplants (maybe 5 or 6 smallish slender guys) and salting them. Salting eggplant draws out its bitter water and makes it creamier. After about thirty minutes, rinse the eggplants and squeeze the water out. Dry them if you like.
While the eggplants are salting, make some tomato sauce. Keep it simple. Saute a small chopped onion in some extra virgin olive oil. Add a can or two of diced or whole tomatoes, along with some passata or tomato puree. Pinch of sugar, S&P. Fresh basil if you have it!
Now here comes the tedious part. The frying. (You can grill them too, which I have never tried. But it’s lower in fat that way, if that’s what you’re into.) Fry those little babies up! Use extra virgin olive oil; you’ll use a lot of it. Get them golden-brown or darker on each side and put them aside on a kitchen towel to drain the oil.
Then you just layer. Put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the dish so the eggplants don’t burn on. Then it’s just eggplant, sauce and parmesan cheese layered until you run out. Use as much parm as you like, but don’t go overboard. This is an eggplant dish, despite its name.
Stick that into the oven until it starts bubbling. Your nose will probably tell you when it’s ready.
And enjoy! This is best served with other simple accompaniments such as a green salad or just fettunta, toasted bread with garlic rubbed on, a la Parvez.
But even better is serving this with friends! Buon appetito!