You may encounter plenty of delicious original variations-but you eat the truly genuine Parmigiana only in the teeming narrow streets of Naples where you smell the perfume of the sea, and meet friendly cheerful people. A few simple ingredients for a burst of Mediterranean flavors: tomatoes, eggplants, basil, and cheese.
We are going find out every secret about this delicious dish, which has become one of the culinary symbols of Italy, second only to the legendary Margherita pizza.
I studied in Naples for a few years, so I went to and fro by plane every week. It was a real toil, but I used to look forward to getting on the plane and experiencing that charming Neapolitan atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Naples has got a bad reputation, but it is a wonderful city: it takes about 5 minutes to fall in love with it. If I could, I would go there more often.
First of all, I live in a place where everything and everybody is tidy, silent, shy, well Naples is exactly the contrary: colorful, noisy, cheerful, chaotic, more than friendly. It is pure energy and genius. Yes, I really love Naples: I had a lot of experiences, I lived there and I know this city very well.
There, I studied to become nutritionist, I learnt to work for people’s health and, I learnt all the basic of the real Mediterranean diet and I have been registered at the Professional Board of the Nutritionists, and I have also been registered at “Albo d’Oro dei Nutrizionisti Italiani come Esperto divulgatore della Dieta Mediterranea” because I have been committed to make the Mediterranean diet known.
The first time I went to Naples, after the most thrilling class I had ever had, I ate the genuine Parmigiana. It is still clear in my mind-I had dinner out with a few new friends I had just met at university: Parmigiana was so fragrant, juicy, a melt in your mouth magnificent delicacy. Since then I have tried to make it over and over again: the one I am going speak about, is my best Parmigiana.
What does a genuine eggplant parmigiana have to look like?
A traditional Southern recipe, especially Naples and Campania, but also Calabria and Sicily, it has become one of the iconic dishes of the Italian culinary history.
Parmigiana is deliciously juicy, oil-rich, and it tastes tomatoes and basil, of course. It is a complete main course which is well paired with some crispy green salad for a balanced meal.
First, prepare the eggplants:
- Choose the right eggplants: some recipes want the globe Indian ones; I usually opt long purple Sicilian ones which are tastier and contain less seeds. 8 eggplants fits 4-6 servings (it is so good that 10 would be better!)
- Cut them properly, it is very important! You have to cut them lengthwise into 3-4 mm thick slices; you’d better use a cutter mandolin slicer. If you cut long eggplants into rings, you would get too small slices. Whereas if you used globe ones, the slices would have too many seeds.
- I always opt for extra virgin olive oil to fry food because it has got a higher smoking point, and it is more stable. If you don’t like its doting taste, opt for a high quality olive oil. Use a large pan and fry eggplants in quite abundant oli. Fry a few slices at a time until they got golden brown on both sides; use a pair of tongs to flip them. Eggplants soak too much oil off they are not fried properly, and parmigiana gets difficult to digest.
- Some recipes coat in breadcrumbs the eggplants: dip the slices in slightly beaten egg then in crumbs. I don’t bread them I usually opt for a lighter recipe and I just coat the eggplants slices in a little rustic flour.
- When ready, I drain eggplants on paper towels. To be honest I usually use what in Italy is called “yellow paper” which is the bag where we buy bread in.
Use only two types of cheese:
- Use only fresh “fiordilatte” mozzarella cheese, definitely! The best choice would be 1 or 2 day old mozzarella from Campania region. When cooked, it gets deliciously stringy, but it doesn’t release much water. Cut about 800g if fiordilatte into 1cm dices. if it releases little water when you cut it, let the dices rest for a few hours in a strainer on a bowl. You may well replace mozzarella with caciocavallo or scamorza cheese: parmigiana will get less juicy.
- Buy high quality 24 month old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, about 200gr. Don’t buy grated parmigiano, nor grate it in the mixer, use a cheese grater.
Four essential trick not to spoil your Parmigiana
Parmigiana must not be too liquid and all its tastes must be well balanced.
- First you have to draw out the bitter juices of the eggplants, so, before frying, you should prepare them as follow:
- Remove the stem and the leaves;
- Slice them and place them into a strainer in a single layer and put it onto a big plate or directly into the kitchen sink;
- Generously sprinkle with salt; do not worry, it is not too much salt. Salted eggplants can sit purging for long time without harming the taste or texture. It will be totally removed before cooking the eggplants;
- Allow to sit for 30 minutes;
- Rinse off the salt in cold running water;
- Pat dry with paper towel; this is important when frying eggplant dices: if they are not dry, they will absorb too much oil and get indigestible.
- Choose only very fresh fiordilatte mozzarella and strain it otherwise it makes Parmigiana too liquid. Slice and put it on an inclined board in your sink. Cover it with a tea-towel and let it sit for about 30 minutes, occasionally pat the surface to draw the water out. You can’t use other kinds of stringy cheese substitutes: only caciocavallo or white scamorza are accepted!
- Be careful with the texture of the tomato sauce, it must be quite thick not to make the parmigiana liquid. Simmer the tomato sauce for about 30 minutes (this is the right time for my quantity of ingredients): it is done when small “craters” appear on the surface. I have made my tomato source with 250g of home made tomato puree (you can buy high quality puree), 1 tbsp of tomato paste, sautéed half onion, salt and fresh basil. A very toothsome variation you may encounter in same restaurants in Naples wants meat ragù: very rich Parmigiana, indeed!
- Fry the eggplant properly, otherwise they will get soggy and oil soaked. Choose a delicate high quality oil which a delicate taste because it must not prevail in the Parmigiana. A light extra virgin olive oil is far better than peanut oil. Fry eggplants in abundant oil, but do not exaggerate with it because they tent to float on the surface; rather, fry a few slices at a time and drain them not paper towels. Slightly pat them to draw the oil out: your Parmigiana will be tasty and well seasoned.
Best Italian Eggplant Parmesan recipe: all you have to know to make the perfect “Parmigiana”
- 1,5 kg long purple eggplants
- basil leaves
- 1 kg ripe tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 small onion
- soft wheat flour
- 800 gr mozzarella fiordilatte cheese or 500g of scamorza or caciocavallo
- 200 gr Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 l high quality extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Remove the stem and the leaves of the eggplants but don’t peel them; then cut the eggplants lengthwise into 3-4 mm thick slices;
- Place them into a strainer in a single layer and put it onto a big plate or directly into the kitchen sink; generously sprinkle with coarse salt;
- Allow to sit for 30 minutes and then rinse off the salt in cold running water;
- Pat dry with paper towel;
- Coat the eggplant slices with flour, and shake off the excess. Fry a few slices at a time in plenty of hot olive oil at 180°C (356°F) until golden crisp;
- Drain them on paper towels.
- Dice the mozzarella fiordilatte, and strain it to draw the water out;
- Prepare the tomato sauce: wash, peel and coarsely cut the tomatoes, discard the seeds. Sauté the tomatoes in a saucepan with a little extra virgin oil;
- Season with salt and pepper and fresh basil leaves and cook over medium heat for about one hour without lid for a quite thick sauce which won’t release liquid in the Parmigiana;
- Now assemble the Parmigiana: cover the bottom of a rectangular 25x35 cm baking pan with a tin layer of tomato sauce; then arrange a layer of fried eggplant slices; cover the eggplants with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese dices, ground pepper, freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and coarsely chopped basil leaves;
- Repeat twice: three layers of eggplants and two of seasoning;
- Top the last layer with abundant grated Parmigiano cheese and basil leaves;
- Pre-heat the oven at 150°C (302°F) for 30 minutes;
- Let it rest a little time before cutting and serving: enjoy it slowly and patiently, bite after bite.
Be generous…serve abundant servings.
Don’t cut small portions! Parmigiana takes quite a lot time to prepare, be patient! You should not be sparing with your serving. Keep in mind that Parmigiana is one of the most favorite dishes in every family, it something which make you feel at ease; if you serve small portions, you may let your family down! Moreover, in the meals of Southern Italian families, serving are traditionally very generous.
How can I keep Parmigiana?
Parmigiana keeps well up to 1 or 2 days in the fridge covered with cling film. You may freeze it when it is cooked. Cut it into single serving slices and defrost in the fridge before heating it up.
The light variations …with grilled eggplant
If you are on a low calorie diet or you prefer a lighter Parmigiana, grill eggplants on a hot grill plate instead of frying them.
The method is the same: if you have a cast iron plate, your eggplants will taste really delicious. You may also replace fiordilatte with cow’s milk mozzarella: the calorie intake will decrease sharply.
You will enjoy a very scrumptious dish without feeling guilty.