With just a few weeks until summer is officially here, my thoughts have turned to fruits and vegetables which are at their best during the warm months. While eggplant is usually available all year round, the humble vegetable peaks in summer and keeps on giving well into autumn. It is a versatile vegetable – cooked over an open flame to create a smoky dip or salad, grilled and then marinated or added to stews and curries. However, one of my favourite eggplant-centric meals has to be eggplant parmigiana or parmigiana di melanzane – it’s the dish that turned this non-eggplant lover around, just a little.
This dish is comforting and wonderfully simple, albeit a little time-consuming. Simple as it requires few ingredients, time-consuming as the eggplant slices need to be fried in a good amount of oil before layering and baking. There are quicker, and less oily, ways to get the job done, but I assure you, it is well worth going down the shallow frying route for a silky texture which makes this dish so special. Many recipes also call for salting eggplants before cooking which is theoretically done to leach out any bitterness. Since most modern varieties of eggplants have had the bitterness bred out of them, I skip this step.
Parmigiana di melanzane is a southern Italian dish that uses tomatoes, eggplant, basil and mozzarella – the parmesan is the outlier hailing from northern Italy. There are many theories in regards to the origin of the name, the most fascinating is that parmigiana originates from the word parmiciane which, in some parts of Sicily, is used to describe Persian wooden shutters. A lovely image to embrace as you fry and layer each slice of eggplant in the dish.
While commonly served as a side dish to roast meats, I prefer this dish to be the main event, served simply with a sharply-dressed salad and a good hunk of fresh crusty bread for mopping up all of the juices.