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Julia Busuttil Nishimura's Eggplant Parmigiana

Food

Julia Busuttil-Nishimura’s recipes always seem to come at the perfect time. This is partly by design – this is, after all, a column about seasonal ingredients – but Julia’s recipes have a way of bringing on a feeling of fizzy anticipation for exciting things to come. This month’s recipe for eggplant parmigiana has us thinking of the summer dinner parties that are now only weeks away, when time is abundant, food is plentiful and our social lives are happy and full!

We loved seeing so many of you making Julia’s Strawberry Galette recipe from last month! If you do whip up any of her fantastic recipes from our seasonal series, please tag @thedesignfiles and @juliaostro so we can re-post your creations!

19th November, 2019

Julia Busuttil Nishimura at home with her eggplant parmigiana. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Slicing the eggplant into rounds. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Rounds of eggplant fried in a shallow pan. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Tomato sugo ready to layer. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Julia in the kitchen. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Eggplant and sugo layers topped with fresh basil. Mud baking dish. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Ready to bake. Mud baking dish. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Fresh ingredients. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Best served with a crisp, tangy salad! Photo – Eve Wilson.

Julia Busuttil-Nishimura
Tuesday 19th November 2019

‘It’s the dish that turned this non-eggplant lover around, just a little.’ – Julia Busuttil-Nishimura.

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.

Photo – Eve Wilson.

JULIA’S Eggplant Parmigiana (serves 6-8)

Ingredients
1.2kg eggplants, sliced into 4mm thick rounds
Oil for frying
100g parmesan cheese, finely grated
400g buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte, thinly sliced
Large handful of basil leaves plus extra to serve

Sugo
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
650g passata
A few basil leaves and their stalks
Sea salt

Method

For the sauce, gently warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add in the garlic and cook until just softened but not coloured. Add in the passata, basil and a good pinch of salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook until slightly thickened (8-10 minutes). Set aside.  

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Fill a deep wide fry pan with 1-1.5cm of olive oil and place on a medium-high heat. Have a tray with plenty of absorbent paper at the ready. When the oil is hot (a slice of eggplant should sizzle immediately), fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden on both sides and drain well on the absorbent paper.

Have all of your ingredients and lasagne or baking dish at the ready – now it’s a matter of layering everything up. I use a 25 x 28 x 7cm but most sizes will work. Slightly smaller and the finished dish will be taller, larger and it will have less layers.

Spoon a thin layer of sauce on the base of your dish. Then arrange a layer of the fried eggplant, slightly overlapping each other, followed by another layer of sauce, some basil leaves, mozzarella slices and a good scattering of the parmesan. Repeat until you have used all of the ingredients, finishing with a layer of sauce and then a scattering of parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until visibly bubbling. Allow to cool for at least two hours, even longer is ideal. If you cut the parmigiana whilst hot, just like with lasagne, it will be incredibly sloppy. Just before serving, top with extra basil leaves and serve with a salad and crusty bread.

What else I’m cooking with…

New season zucchini cooked with olive oil, garlic, mint and salt until soft. Stirred through pasta or eaten on grilled bread. Also their flowers, stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, battered and fried.

What I’m eating…

If you want your dose of eggplant parmigiana in a sandwich, I would highly recommend getting it at Romans Original in Footscray. Their meatball sandwich is also top! In fact, everything is great and generally is just a very good vibe.

You can follow along with Julia on Instagram and find more fab recipes via her website

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