By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
I would like to lead you on a journey to the original dishes of my country, Italy. We'll start with the basics and gradually move through the regions to explore dishes typical of each city and countryside.
Today, I want to share a story and the original recipe of a delicious traditional dish—Parmigiana di Melanzane.
There is an eternal fight between Sicilians and Napolitanos about the actual origins of the recipe. Both of them swear that the dish belongs to its region. I’m sure that parmigiana is from the Southern coasts of Italy and not from the city of Parma; the name derives from one of the cheeses used—Parmigiano reggiano.
The recipe with tomato sauce first appeared in print in Ippolito Cavalcanti’s (an author from an ancient aristocratic family—his ancestor was a friend of Dante) Cucina teorico-pratica, published in Naples in 1837. It was a dish of cucina povera (peasant food). The basis of cucina povera is all about making great food with simple, cheap, and available ingredients. So, for this traditional dish, eggplant is substituted for the more expensive meat.
It is still delicious and an authentic Italian staple that never fails to inspire.
Parmigiana Di Melanzane
2 pounds of ripe eggplant
1 cup Parmesan cheese
4 oz (100 g) mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese, sliced
1 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 clove garlic
4 cups of tomato sauce
Salt and Pepper
Wash the eggplants and slice them lengthwise, ½" thick. Put the slices on a tray and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Let them rest about one hour (this will eliminate the bitterness of the eggplant). Wash them in cool water and dry thoroughly.
Sauté the garlic in the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper. Let it cook until the sauce thickens.
Cut mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese into thin slices and set aside.
Boil one egg until hard-boiled. When it cools, cut into thin slices .
Beat together one tablespoon of water and the other raw egg.
Heat peanut oil in a large frying pan over high heat.
Dredge every eggplant slice lightly in flour, and then dip in the egg mixture. Dredge once more in flour.
Fry the eggplant slices until golden and place on a paper towel to dry the excess oil.
Pour a bit of tomato sauce in a baking dish and lay down a single layer of eggplant slices. Top with a layer of cheese slices, basil, and slices of boiled egg.
Repeat the layering process, starting with the tomato sauce.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and repeat the layers once again.
Finally, finish with a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan.
Bake at medium temperature for about 30 minutes.
Let cool and serve. Parmigiana is good hot, lukewarm, or cool—it’s ALWAYS delicious!
*If you need a kick of spice, add some flakes of hot pepper to the tomato sauce.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), and Superfoods, Ippo is currently finishing her latest work, The Lords of Florence (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).