The Quest for the Best Aubergine Parmigiana

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“Not again, surely” my housemate groans, as she shoves a slice of bread into the toaster, observing me standing by our kitchen table covered in my hauled ingredients. I’m holding the offending item at an angle, trying to find the optimum point of incision to cut it absolutely perfectly. The thing in question? The humble aubergine: destined for olive oil, tomato sauce and cheese which will all culminate in the most delicious mess of an Aubergine Parmigiana.

I first tried Aubergine Parmigiana in Sicily when I was 17, and I ate 3 portions without protest (although I wasn’t given much choice by the Sicilian great aunt of the friend I was there with). It was heaven – the melting, tender aubergines, a tomato sauce which I would sell my soul for and, of course, cheese. Ever since then, I’ve tried to cook, recreate and of course eat the perfect Parmegiana to fix my cravings. Spags does a delicious one (beautifully washed down with the litre of red wine), as does my housemate Bella who has helped me a lot with my aubergine technique (I’m sorry.). Like with many dishes, there’s a million ways to do a Parmigiana, some flour their aubergine, some forgo mozzarella (?) – this is just the way I like to cook it, and it’s pretty delicious I promise.

Aubergine Parmigiana

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large aubergines or 3 medium
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 600g fresh tomatoes
  • 500g tomato passata.
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • About 80ml of red wine (in other words a splash)
  • Chilli flakes
  • Dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
  • 2 balls of mozzarella
  • 250g of pre-grated mozzarella
  • 30g finely grated parmesan
  • Small handful of breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Table salt
  • Sea salt flakes

Slice the aubergines lengthways in the neatest way you can. Salt them liberally with the table salt (don’t go crazy, we’re not trying to preserve them, but it will be rinsed off so don’t be too shy) and place in a dish large enough, they will leak a little bit of water, but don’t worry if they don’t – most of them are genetically modified to forgo this practice but I think it improves things. 

After this, finely chop the onion and garlic and add the onion to a deep frying pan with a generous glug of olive oil. Melt the onion slowly at a low heat for 10 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook both for a further 10 minutes, keeping the heat low – do not let the onion turn brown. As we are going to boil aubergines, put a pot of water onto the boil so it’s ready for later (do not salt the water!). Next, add the fresh tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato puree, wine, chilli flakes, oregano, and a little pinch of sea salt into the pan with the onions and garlic, turn the heat up to high when they’re all in. Let it all slowly break down, going from a high heat to a low heat, and let it bubble away for at least 40 minutes, giving it a stir here and there. Ready for later, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.

In the meantime our attention turns mainly back to the aubergines, they should have been sitting for about an hour. Through recommendation and experimentation I have found that the best way to go about cooking them pre-assembly is to fry half and boil half – you don’t have to, you could boil them all and it would still be a pretty good dish, and if you fry them it really is pure heaven, but personally I feel whilst eating the fully fried version like I am too-near reaching the afterlife sooner than I would want.

Rinse them thoroughly with cold water in a colander and set aside to drain. Pat half the aubergines dry (focus on the thinner cuts as they are better for frying). Heat up a frying pan to a medium heat, (you might need 2 if you don’t have a big enough pan) drizzle a little olive oil and fry for 8-10 minutes. Boil the other half of the aubergines for 3 minutes in the water we, drain and set to one side. Grate your parmesan if you haven’t already and slice the mozzarella balls into thin but robust discs.

Now we are ready to assemble: take a deep casserole dish and go for it. The best way to go is: aubergine, tomato sauce, some grated mozzarella and some parmesan, aubergine, tomato sauce, parmesan and some mozzarella discs, aubergine, a thin layer of tomato sauce, aubergines, the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling. Serve with a hunk of bread for mopping up the oozey delight you’ve just created, without worrying too much about presentation.

Featured image via Unsplash

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