Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Since eggplant (melanzane) season is just beginning I decided to create a baked eggplant parm I actually like that’s not fried. Here in Puglia they say to be good it has to be fried but I disagree (don’t tell them that) . Here in Puglia their version differs from Rome, Florence and Como where we’ve also lived. They use a rich meat sauce (ragu) and ham or mortadella and of course they fry each slice of eggplant after dipping in bread crumbs and egg. I have tried it every which way and I actually prefer this new method the most. I tested it on my husband and he gave me the thumbs up which is huge since he is born and raised Italian and tends to prefer his traditional foods.
To salt or not to salt: I have been researching this for years and my conclusion is that if you use this method with good fresh smallish eggplants there is no need to salt. I’ve also been told by farmers that the modern varieties don’t require it as they don’t contain the bitter juices.
Interesting Food Trivia : Italian food experts suggest that the name Parmigiana Melanzane has nothing to do with parmigiano cheese or Parma the city, but derives from the Sicilian palmigiana not parmigiana, meaning “shutters,” the louvered panes of shutters or palm-thatched roofs that the layered eggplant slices are meant to resemble. Isn’t that great? Didn’t you always wonder about the name?
This eggplant Parmesan is lighter than most except for the olive oil , and the eggplant flavor actually shines through as it’s layered with the delicious ‘5 minute tomato sauce’ (see recipe on blog or use your own favorite). I will confess that living amidst olive trees in the olive oil capital of Italy I don’t skimp on using that liquid gold. It’s not too cheesy but has the just right amount and its mostly on top so it can develop that irresistible golden crust. Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses are bursting with flavor so you don’t even miss the usual mozzarella. That also makes it lactose free.
Before you head to the grocery store, here are some tips on choosing great eggplant. Be sure to choose eggplants that are smooth and shiny, with no dents or mushy parts. They should feel heavy for their size. If possible, choose eggplants that are on the smaller side. Large eggplants tend to contain more seeds, which have an annoying texture. Then be sure to turn that eggplant into eggplant Parm subito, since overripe eggplant tastes bitter.
Eggplant notoriously absorbs oil like a sponge, so you’ll want to brush oil onto the eggplant rather than drizzling it on.
prep time 20 minutes, cook time 45 minutes with 20 minute rest
This Italian-style eggplant Parmesan recipe is lighter than most—it’s made with roasted eggplant slices (not fried) and no breading at all. It’s gluten free, too! Recipe yields one 9-inch square eggplant Parm, or about 8 servings.
- 3 pounds eggplants (about 3 smallish or 2 medium)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil
- 4 ounces freshly grated or sliced pecorino cheeses(about 1 cup) I use a mixture of Pugliese Roman and Tuscan pecorino cheeses
- 4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
- for the tomato sauce: https://janesitaliankitchen.com/2016/03/22/1-minute-tomato-sauce-that-tastes-great/
- To roast the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Line two large rimmed, baking sheets with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
- Slice off both rounded ends on one eggplant, then stand it up on its widest flat side. Slice through the eggplant vertically to make long, even slabs ¼- to ½-inch-thick. Discard both of the sides that are covered in eggplant skin. Repeat with the other eggplant(s).
- Brush both sides of the eggplant slabs lightly with olive oil (you’ll likely need about ¼ cup oil). Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle the top sides with a few dashes of salt and pepper. Roast until golden and tender, about 22 to27 minutes—halfway through baking, rotate the pans 180 degrees and swap their positions (move pan on lower rack to upper rack, and vice versa). The pan on the lower rack might need a few extra minutes in the oven to turn golden. Set aside.
- When you’re ready to assemble, spread about ¾ cup of the sauce in the bottom of an 9 or 9 inch square pan. Arrange about one-third of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly (cut them to fit, if necessary). Spoon another ¾ cup of the sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with ¼ cup parmesan cheese.
- Arrange about half of the remaining eggplant slices evenly on top. Spread another ¾ cup sauce on top and sprinkle with ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Layer the remaining eggplant slices on top and top with ¾ cup sauce (you might have a little left over) and the remaining pecorino cheese. Evenly sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
- Bake on the lower rack, uncovered, until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes to give it time to set, then chop and sprinkle additional basil on top. Slice with a sharp knife and serve.
- Leftovers keep well, covered and refrigerated, for about 4 days. Reheat before serving.
- Can be prepared ahead: chill for up to 2 days or freeze then bake as above adding about 15 minutes