Many are the places that claims to have created this simple yet delicious dish, as always happens with the great things, everyone's interested in demonstrating his "paternity" to it. The Eggplant Parmigiana is typical in many Italian regional cuisines, and even if many thinks that this kid was born in the Campania region, the only region that actually obtained an official title to demonstrate it is Sicily.
Two are the main ingredients of the Parmigiana (no, neither of the two is the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, curiously). We're talking of the Tomato and the Eggplant or Aubergine if you're London-based. These two ingredients are just marvellous together, they are a match made in food heaven, they always seems to have been around together since forever. Today, they are two of the most representative ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine, but they're really not mediterranean at all. Shocked? Keep reading!
Mr. Tomato and miss Aubergine agreed to have a blind date that they decided to occur in Sicily, somewhat halfway between America (Tomato) and Asia (Eggplant-aubergine).
The first one to reach the meeting point was miss Aubergine, around year 827, brought there by the hands of the Moors. The poor pretty lady had to wait a long long time for her pretender, but miss Aubergine in Sicily found a second house, and she even called her friends to reach her in that beautiful island. In a little while, Sicily was filled, packed of miss Aubergines, all of these waiting for the "Caravan of love" to come from America with many, many Mr. Tomatoes.
|miss Aubergine went to Sicily for tourism but decided to remain there.|
They say that in that year Cristopher Columbus discovered America, but we all know that it was just an excuse: come on, let's be realistic, Columbus went there just to pick up the Tomato that were horribly late for their blind date! (knowing Mr. Tomato pretty well, we dare to say that he was too much nervous because he wanted to give an excellent first impression). What would it be of Italian gastronomy without the tomato!? It would be really unthinkable! The variety of dishes made with tomatoes is just countless: pasta, salads, meals, pizza...and a million of other dishes useless without that gorgeous fruit dressed up like it was a veggie. One may be allowed to think that if it were not for the discover of the tomato, many dishes wouldn't even exist nowadays! But shush! Let's not say this aloud, we don't want the tomato to talk big.
Finally, it was Hernan Cortes who brought tomatoes to Europe, around year 1500 (men seems to be never in a hurry!). Before reaching Sicily, actually, they call at Madrid, Spain (if we close our eyes we can imagine the tomatoes running from a Terminal to another in Madrid's labyrintic Barajas Intercontinental Airport!). Mr. Tomato, just arrived in the Old World, was considered to be just a non edible ornamental plant: we guess that he spent way too much time getting himself all dolled up! Shall we agree that this is one of the World's first examples of Metrosexuality in the history of mankind, shall we?
|The meeting of Mr. Tomato and miss Aubergine|
When he finally managed to reach Sicily and he met miss Aubergine, it was more than just love at first sight: it was a premeditated love, a love written in the skies by destiny. A love that is very strong still today, if we judge by the number of dishes where they appears to be gloriously married together. It's like an artistic duo: when they appears together, magical things happens! We had to wait many centuries to see them shining together, but they definitely worth all the time spent! To be completely sincere with you, there are also other dishes that came before the Parmigiana and had miss Aubergine as a starring actress: we're talking about the Sicilian "Caponata", but don't worry, we'll talk about it in another occasion!
We can find the Eggplant Parmigiana (Parmigiana di Melanzane in Italian) recipe for the first time in a cookbook published in Naples in year 1778, titled "Il cuoco elegante" (the elegant cook) and written by Vincenzo Corrado. In the 1839 book "Cucina teorico-pratica" ("practical-theoretical cuisine") by Ippolito Cavalcanti (from Naples too) we can read the Parmigiana recipe almost as we know it today.
|Parmigiana di Melanzane, or in english Eggplant Parmigiana|
Pretty as much as it happens with its birth, even the origin of the name of the Parmigiana is surrounded by many hypotesis and uncertainities. We can think the Parmigiana to be somewhat linked with the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or in the beautiful city of Parma, in north of Italy. Actually, in Parma, a very high end gastronomical city, there was a tradition in cutting veggies into slices and presenting them cooked one above the other, just like Parmigiana. We tend not to agree much with this option, since there are no immediate links between Parma and Sicily at the time of the supposed birth of the Parmigiana, even if many excellent food historians and food scholars like Luciano Pignataro do support this hypotesis and think that the Eggplant Parmigiana means "eggplant cooked as they do in Parma".
The other hypotesis comes straight from the Sicily itself, where the vernacular word "parmiciana" means louver, therefore indicating a structure composed of different slats one above the other, just like what happens with the Parmigiana. We are more convinced by this option, since we know that the Moors had windows similar to our jealousie windows and they brought them wherever they went, as it happened with the eggplant. It mustn't surprise then that there might have been a Moorish dish with sliced fried eggplants in the Arab Sicily that was the grandma of our Parmigiana recipe.
What it seems to be sure is that the Parmigiana less or nothing have to share with the "King of Cheeses", the unique and only Parmigiano Reggiano, even if in modern-days Parmigiana that marvellous northern Italian cheese is used gratinated above the dish. On the other hand, what dish does not enjoy some gratinated Parmigiano? In different regional version of this recipe we can see that are used Pecorino or Caciocavallo cheeses.
But now it's time to put something under our teeth! Let's go with the very simple and delicious recipe!
Ingredients: (As always, the quantities written above are just an indication: with three middle sized eggplant you can obtain four portions of Parmigiana, and according to this ratio, modify the quantity of eggplant needed)
- 3 middle sized eggplant
- 500 - 800 g aprox. of tomato sauce (preferably home made)
- 2 or 3 eggs
- 100 g. of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (only the original!)
- Olive oil
- 2 fresh Mozzarella (better if it's "fior di latte")
1- We start peeling our eggplants (the skin of the eggplant may result bitter in our palates), we wash them into slices somewhat less than half an inch wides, we put them in a colander and the sprinkle some salt above them. We let the eggplants to "sweat" to let them lose their water, for about an hour. After this, we wash the slices, we dry them and we bread them.
2- To bread our eggplants, we'll pass the slices through flour, then through beaten egg and last through breadcrumbs. We'll fry them in boiling oil until they become golden brown in both sides and we dry them using a kitchen paper to get rid of the excess of oil.
|Flour, eggs and breadcrumbs|
3- In a platter fit for the oven, we put the eggplant slices in the bottom of the dish, then we cover it with tomato sauce (ours is made with pepper and garlic), then add sliced or little pieces of mozzarella fresh cheese to taste, basil leaves and then we add another layer of eggplants, following the order, just like you would do cooking a lasagna.
4- The last layer will end with tomato sauce, mozzarella and gratinated Parmigiano Reggiano. We'll pop it into the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes at 180ºC. They say that the Parmigiana is to be left into the oven "finchè si asciuga", that in italian means "until the sauce gets dry" and we can appreciate a golden brown crust above it.
It is a delicious dish that you can enjoy both warm or cold.
Last but not least, you can cook a light version of the Parmigiana using grilled eggplant instead of fried ones. You can also fry them only passing them through the beaten eggs or breading them only with flour and not with breadcrumbs...you choose how! Just try it, you'll fall in love with it in a matter of seconds!