This is a super easy recipe to make. It’s just a quick tomato ragu sauce with some pan-fried eggplant layered into a baking dish with generous helpings of tasty, parmesan and mozzarella cheese, finished with some fresh basil.
This dish can be made ahead of schedule if necessary for a gathering, and simply reheated when required, and because of this, vegetarian restaurants often feature a dish like this on their menus. But no need to hunt this down on a restaurant menu when this is so simple to do yourself at home. Meat eaters, do not be disheartened, because I can assure you will not miss the meat as the creamy flesh of the eggplant has a real meaty mouthfeel and a wonderful rich flavour. I’ve used my Gaucho marinade in this recipe, as the herbs and sweet paprika really marry well with the tomato and oozing cheese when sprinkled on top.
Did you know? In Italy this dish is called ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’ and it seems to be Italy’s response to a famous Greek-inspired eggplant dish called ‘Moussaka’ which is made with sautéed lamb mince and eggplant. The best eggplant parmigiana I ever tasted was in a little cobbled side street off the main piazza in Florence. I had arrived in Florence the day before and had just spent the day wandering the streets marvelling at all the interesting architecture.
I was particularly impressed with the Duomo, known around the world for its size and beauty as well as its rich history. It took 200 years to finish and was the brainchild of the 13th-century architect Arnolfo di Cambio. It was finished by the equally talented Filippo Brunelleschi and both quite interestingly have had statues made of them which means we can now admire their handiwork for eternity. The outside of the building is covered in a decorative mix of pink, white and green marble. The interior by stark contrast is quite plain. The most astounding feature of this building to me was the absolutely incredibly intricate mosaic-tiled floor. The geometric shapes and colours remind me of the Alhambra in Granada, the palace of the Moors in southern Spain.
As I sit at my small, checkered cloth table, I feel like I’ve just jumped into the ‘Café Terrace at Night’ painting by Vincent van Gogh. There is a cool breeze in the night air, which is a delightful reprieve from the oppressive summer heat of the daytime. My waiter approaches the table and is garbed in the usual attire of black trousers and a crisp white long-sleeved cotton shirt. It's unbuttoned about halfway down his chest, and I spot a small golden crucifix nestled in his thick, curly, black chest hair, desperately trying to escape the confines of his shirt. He has crisp blue eyes the colour of the Mediterranean; he flicks his raven-coloured hair, styled like that of Brad Pitt from the movie _Seven Years in Tibet,_ out of his eyes and begins in excellent English to tell me the specials of the day.
When he finishes saying ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’ he puts his fingers to his mouth, then opens them as if blowing a kiss, something I noticed Italians do a lot when they think something is wonderful. I take it as a secret sign, and say in broken Italian, “I’ll have that please” This evokes a brilliant smile from him, “And to drink?” “Chianti of course”, I replied cheekily. “Molto bene, grazie,” he says and does the hand-to-mouth movement again, and with that, he picks up my menu and turns on his heel with the grace of a dancer, and he’s off back into the restaurant.
He returns moments later, carrying the distinctive Chianti bottle, and expertly pops the cork in a matter of seconds and pours me a generous glass; he then plonks the wine in the centre of the table and says, “This is your reward, my friend, as you are the only tourist I have heard in the last two weeks that has tried to speak Italian, so the wine is on me.”Just then a young girl appears and places a bubbling hot cheesy ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’ on the table; she bows her head politely and retreats as quickly as she came.
"I hope you enjoy the meal and wine sir; thanks for choosing my restaurant tonight,” he says with a sincerity I really hear. With that, he turns on his heel and is off. The aroma of the cheesy, tomatoey, goodness mixed with the Chianti is divine. I swirl my wine, take a sip, and dive into the most delicious ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’ I’ve ever had.
What better comfort food is there than to dive into a hot serving of gooey, tomatoey, cheesy eggplant parmigiana, lovingly made from scratch. Why not bring a bit of Italy to your home this week? Trust me, you won’t regret it.
PREP TIME: 10 mins
COOKING TIME: 45 mins
4 eggplant (medium)
2 cups mozzarella grated
1 cup tasty shredded
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
1 tbs oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbs tomato paste
2 x 400g canned crushed tomatoes
2 tbs brown sugar
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsps GAUCHO
1 tsp salt (if needed)
Slice the eggplant into 1cm thick slices.
Heat a medium-sized fry pan on medium and fry the onion in the oil until fragrant.
Add garlic and cook, stirring for a minute or two.
Add GAUCHO and stir in.
Add tomato paste and cook out stirring for a minute.
Add brown sugar and vinegar.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the sauce has reduced slightly.
Heat a large frypan and pan fry the eggplant until golden on each side.
Spoon a small amount of the passata into the bottom of a deep baking dish.
Place a layer of eggplant over the top, then layer with sauce, cheese, eggplant, and continue until all ingredients have been used.
Top with cheese (and a little more Gaucho if desired).
Bake at 180°C for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve with fresh salad or seasonal vegetables. Crack open a bottle of Chianti and buon appetito!