Parmigiana di melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)

Parmigiana di melanzane

Being a lover of good food, I find it almost impossible to answer the question ‘what’s your favorite dish?’ But if I had to, my answer would probably be eggplant parmesan–parmigiana di melanzane–the way Angelina used to make it.

This is a simple dish to make, but it involves several steps. Allow yourself a good two hours to prepare this dish. It tastes much better made ahead, so if you have the time, make it in the morning and have it for dinner or, even better, make it at your leisure the day before.

Ingredients

For the eggplant:

  • 3-4 large eggplants
  • 6 eggs
  • 75g (3 oz) grated pecorino romano cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:

For assembling the parmigiana:

  • 1 large ball of mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
  • 100g of grated Parmesan cheese
  • A few fresh basil leaves, shredded

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the eggplant. You begin with eggplant, of course. For this dish, the large, purple variety is preferable; about two should do you for a good sized baking dish. You cut the eggplants into fairly thin slices. Now you should ‘purge’ them of their excess liquid, which can be bitter. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, and then lay them in a colander laid on top of a plate. Cover the slices with a small plate on which you should place something a bit heavy like a can of beans or tomatoes. This will help press the liquid out of the eggplant. Leave them for about an hour.

You should notice a small puddle of brownish water below the colander, which you should discard, of course. Remove the slices from the colander and pat them dry.

Step 2: Fry the eggplant. Now you dip the eggplant slices in flour, followed by an egg and cheese ‘bath’ made from beaten eggs, grated pecorino cheese, finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Shallow fry the eggplant slices over moderate heat until they are golden brown on the outside and tender inside.

You will need to fry the eggplant slices in batches. As each batch is done, drain and set on paper towels to absorb the excess oil as you continue with the next batch. Repeat until you’re done.

Step 3: Prepare the tomato sauce. While this is going on, prepare a very light tomato sauce by combining chopped tomatoes (fresh if in season, but canned tomatoes are fine), a few leaves of fresh basil, salt, chopped garlic and just a few drops of olive oil. (Some people omit the olive oil altogether since the eggplant, even after draining, can be a bit oily.) Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have melted into a sauce If using canned tomatoes, add a bit of water to loosen the sauce before simmering. You will want a good amount of sauce, so be sure to make a potful–you can always any extra to dress pasta.

Step 4: Prepare the cheeses. Take a large mozzarella, preferably fresh, and slice it. Grate lots of parmesan cheese, at least a cupful (you can grate it as you assemble the dish).

Step 5: Assemble the dish. You are now ready to assemble the dish. In a bake-and-serve pan, place a layer of the fried eggplant slices, then a bit of the tomato sauce, then a few mozzarella slices, a bit of shredded basil (optional) and grated parmesan cheese. Season. Then add another layer of eggplant and continue until you’ve used up your ingredients. End with tomato sauce and parmesan. (Don’t put mozzarella on top, it will brown too quickly in the oven and burn.)

Ready for the oven…

Step 6: Baking. Bake in a hot oven (400 F, 200 C) for about 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling hot and the top a bit brown. Don’t worry if it even looks a bit ‘burnt’ around the edges–that’s normal and, to some tastes, the best part! Let the dish cool a bit before eating, at least 15 minutes. In fact, it tastes best made ahead and reheated (just a bit) before eating. It can also be eaten at room temperature. Just don’t eat it piping hot, because you will miss the full, wonderful flavors!

Notes

A friend from Naples once told me that this version of parmigiana—made with eggplant slices dipped in egg—is typical of the interior of Campania, the region where Naples is located and of which it is the capital. In fact, that’s where Angelina was from, a small mountain town near Benevento. In Naples proper, this dish is made with eggplant slices that are simply lightly floured and fried. Most modern recipes you will find follow the Neapolitan method. I’ve tried it that way and it makes for a lighter dish. But I still like Angelina’s version best! For an even lighter dish, you can brush the eggplants with olive oil and grill them instead of frying. The result is actually very nice, but you are getting pretty far from the original flavor and texture of the classic dish. They also make this dish in Sicily (in fact, the Sicilians claim the dish is theirs-see below) but without the mozzarella cheese.

If you are pressed for time, you can skip the initial ‘purging’ of the eggplants. As long as the eggplants are reasonably fresh, it should not make that much difference. I sometimes skip this step myself. But be aware, there is a chance that the dish will have a bitter aftertaste. And if you want an even quicker dish, instead of a tomato sauce, you can use passata di pomodoro or crushed canned tomatoes–it will cook in the oven–a drizzle un filo d’olio over each layer.

Some recipes calls for baking the dish in a moderately slow oven and for a longer period, from 45 minutes up to an hour, raising the temperature at the very end if necessary to brown the top. The advantage of this method is that you are less likely to burn the top.

This dish can play many roles in an Italian meal. It can serve as an antipasto, as part of a buffet, as a light secondo or as a piatto unico: a single-dish meal in itself. And, to be honest, I even eat it, the morning after I make it, for breakfast!

By the way, as is typical for a popular dish with many variations, there are a good number of different stories about the origins of this dish. some of them place it in or around Naples, while say the dish originated in Sicily. Despite the name, however, it is very doubtful that this dish comes from Parma. The name may refer simply to the generous use of parmgiano cheese in the dish. Some early sources say that the parmigiani were known for making layered vegetable casseroles. The Sicilians say that the name comes from  parmiciana, which the dialect word the slots in window shutters (persiane in proper Italian) since the eggplant slices lined up in the baking dish were said to resemble said shutters.

This interesting article discusses the various claims and their relative merits. If you can read Italian, Wikipedia also has an article on the dish. Both place the probable origin to Campania and to the 18th century chef and writer Vincenzo Corrado.

My sous-chef….

Parmigiana di melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Parmigiana di melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)

Ingredients

    For the eggplant:
  • 3-4 large eggplants
  • 6 eggs
  • 75g (3 oz) grated pecorino romano cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 large can of tomatoes, preferably imported San Marzano
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
  • Olive oil
  • A basil leaf or two
  • Salt
  • For assembling the parmigiana:
  • 1 large ball of mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
  • 100g of grated Parmesan cheese
  • A few fresh basil leaves, shredded

Directions

  1. Prepare the eggplant. Cut the eggplants into fairly thin slices. Now you should 'purge' them of their excess liquid, which can be bitter. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, and then lay them in a colander laid on top of a plate. Cover the slices with a small plate on which you should place something a bit heavy like a can of beans or tomatoes. This will help press the liquid out of the eggplant. Leave them for about an hour. You should notice a small puddle of brownish water below the colander, which you should discard, of course. Remove the slices from the colander and pat them dry.
  2. Fry the eggplant. Dip the eggplant slices in flour, followed by an egg and cheese 'bath' made from beaten eggs, grated pecorino cheese, finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Shallow fry the eggplant slices over moderate heat until they are golden brown on the outside and tender inside.
  3. You will need to fry the eggplant slices in batches. As each batch is done, drain and set on paper towels to absorb the excess oil as you continue with the next batch. Repeat until you're done.
  4. Prepare the tomato sauce. In the meanwhile, prepare a very light tomato sauce by combining chopped tomatoes (fresh if in season, but canned tomatoes are fine), a few leaves of fresh basil, salt, chopped garlic and just a few drops of olive oil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have melted into a sauce If using canned tomatoes, add a bit of water to loosen the sauce before simmering.
  5. Prepare the cheeses. Take a large mozzarella, preferably fresh, and slice it. Grate lots of parmesan cheese, at least a cupful (you can grate it as you assemble the dish).
  6. Assemble the dish. You are now ready to assemble the dish. In a bake-and-serve pan, place a layer of the fried eggplant slices, then a bit of the tomato sauce, then a few mozzarella slices, a bit of shredded basil (optional) and grated parmesan cheese. Season. Then add another layer of eggplant and continue until you've used up your ingredients. End with tomato sauce and parmesan. (Don't put mozzarella on top, it will brown too quickly in the oven and burn.)
  7. Baking. Bake in a hot oven (400 F, 200 C) for about 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling hot and the top a bit brown. Let the dish cool a bit before eating, at least 15 minutes. In fact, it tastes best made ahead and reheated (just a bit) before eating. It can also be eaten at room temperature.
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41 Responses to “Parmigiana di melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)”

  1. Lisa
    1 May 2014 at 20:29 #

    I love this recipe and I make it quite often. However, I grew up in similar surroundings (Italian grandma, etc) and she always fried the eggplant with breadcrumbs. Is that wrong?

    • 2 May 2014 at 12:12 #

      Well, I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but it’s the Americanized way of making the dish.

  2. Michael Bianco
    24 July 2013 at 11:45 #

    What town near Benevento is Angelina from? I’m from Civitella Licinio, about 5 miles from Benevento.

    • 26 July 2013 at 09:54 #

      The town is called Apice. Do you know it? According to Google Maps, it’s only about 50 kms away… Small world.

  3. Stacey French
    24 July 2013 at 09:45 #

    Hi there! I am Frank’s sister, and I needed to make eggplant for our sister Chris – she was having a party. So I called my brother to ask him how to do this with fresh eggplant – I have always used already breaded cutlets. He graciously answered “Check my blog”. I have to say I was non too happy with that answer cuz let’s face it when you have direct access to the “Food Genius” you should get some perks – don’t you agree? Well as true as that may be, I humbly have to tell you, Frank could not have been more correct. I personally need pictures when I cook and I followed this recipe step by step. And I have to say my family and extended family said it was the best I have ever made! It was easier then I thought it would be and my house smelled like Angelina’s (Nana’s) for the longest time! Wonderful eggplant parm, wonderful instructions, and wonder smells to boot! Non c’e male! Thanks Frank! (I still think my meatballs are better XOXOXO ) ;)

    • 26 July 2013 at 09:55 #

      You see, Nana knows best…

      • Stacey French
        26 July 2013 at 10:39 #

        I am wondering if you are going to put the “Frank could not have been more correct” in the “what our readers are saying” section! LOL Clearly the “I still think my meatballs are better” is not!
        XOXO
        Baby Sis

  4. Antonette
    24 July 2013 at 08:58 #

    On a lighter side, I just dip the eggplant in flour and fry lightly in olive oil omitting the egg but will definitely add the pecorino, parsley etc to the flour…being from Campania region my mom makes it exactly like you…mille grazie!!

  5. 29 June 2013 at 02:12 #

    This has to be one of the all time great dishes and as luck would have it I have melanzane in the fridge so guess what I am going to do?

  6. tom griffin
    24 March 2013 at 14:56 #

    Frank,
    I have it in the oven right now!

  7. Iris
    18 June 2012 at 13:18 #

    I made this today, let it cool down and now I tasted it …. died and gone to heaven!

    Thank you so much for this and all the other recipes! Your explanations are so helpful and easy to follow.

    I am not concerned about the fat content, evoo (extra virgin olive oil) is very healthy :) and I am not eating the whole dish in one go.

    Food glorious food!

    Iris

    • 26 July 2013 at 09:59 #

      This is a *very* late reply, Iris, but thanks so much for your comment. Liked it so much I have included it on our “What Are Readers Are Saying” page. :=))

  8. 2 September 2011 at 07:31 #

    @Stelio: Many thanks for your kind comment!

    Greek cuisine is one that I've always wanted to explore. So similar, it seems, in many ways to Italian cooking but yet different. I am familiar with versions of moussaka, which I have enjoyed, but surely nothing to compare with your homemade version!

  9. 9 August 2011 at 09:16 #

    Frank this is one heck of a recipe, and very well written and explained. In Greece we have a dish called Moussaka which requires fried eggplant. To make the dish lighter I brush the eggplant slices with oil and roast in the oven till tender as you say. It does tend to make the whole dish less oily. Unfortunately everybody is now thinking of “Heathy Eating”. But I agree if it is not made the way it should be made then it should not be made at all!! Bravo again. Hope your move is finished and you are comfy in your new place.
    Cheers.
    Stelio from Athens, Grecia.

  10. 17 February 2011 at 15:30 #

    This is a recipe that I will try for sure. Grazie!!!

  11. 6 November 2010 at 09:11 #

    Looks delicious

  12. 5 November 2010 at 22:23 #

    What a great recipe. I've never pressed my eggplant first. I'm going to give that a spin next time.

  13. 31 August 2010 at 17:18 #

    i made this on sunday…BEST. EGGPLANT. PARMIGIANA. EVER. thank you. i've been following your blog for a little less than a year now and have made many things (mostly the casserole dishes) and they are all spectacular. i think i was italian in another life. anyway, love your recipes and the way they are written.

  14. 30 August 2010 at 05:20 #

    I used to hate eggplant. But studying in Rome has made me realize how eggplant can be a good food! Love it eversince!

  15. 29 August 2010 at 17:00 #

    Hi Frank and Sous-Chef Twain ( that's what I call my dog too :) I have to agree Eggplant Parmigiana is a fantastic dish! I've only tried it at restaurants but honestly I can't wait to try your recipe. I'm printing it out to try it hopefully this week, how exciting. Thank you for sharing your authentic recipe.

  16. 28 August 2010 at 15:15 #

    Thanks, all, for your kinds comments–on behalf of myself and my sous chef, Twain!

  17. 27 August 2010 at 09:26 #

    It's one of my favorite dishes

  18. 27 August 2010 at 08:41 #

    Wonderful commentary, and your detailed instruction is greatly appreciated–bookmarked for the fall!

  19. 25 August 2010 at 22:49 #

    Oh my God Frank! This looks soooo amazing! Right off my Nonas' table! wow!

  20. 25 August 2010 at 06:11 #

    looks so delicious! I like the idea of pressing out the juice, I have never tried it that way–thank you for the tip.

  21. 24 August 2010 at 17:12 #

    Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite dishes. Yours looks wonderful. If you're interested in a lightened up version, please have a look at mine. http://fightthefatfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/12/savory-eggplant-parmesan.html

  22. 23 August 2010 at 21:13 #

    Hands up and my hat´s off or you sir. Great recipe. Great times.

  23. 22 August 2010 at 07:50 #

    That looks great!! I learned three things today. 1)you don't have to have the eggplant in one layer to have it drain 2)weight on top while draining and 3)once they're fried use a rack instead of a plate… All good to know since I bought two eggplants at the market yesterday with the intention of making involtini later this week. Now, I may switch to this :-) Thank you so much!! Kate (kateis cooking)

  24. 22 August 2010 at 00:20 #

    I'm with you, eggplant parmigana is at the top of my list – and it ALWAYS tastes better the next day! And, like you, I can TOTALLY eat this for breakfast without hesitation – i love your tip for pressing out the “sweat” from the eggplant – i've never done that before, i usually just salt and let sit for 10-15 minutes, rinse, then pat dry – I'm certain Angelina's method is supreme! also a great tip about not putting the mozzarella on top – frank i simply adore your blog – thank you for bringing Naples to me – since my grandmother lives in New York, and is hard of hearing to talk on the phone, and I don't get to see her often enough to glean as much from her as I long to about Naples, her life, the culture, and more…I treasure the stories and incredible cuisine you continue to bring us – thank you truly

  25. 22 August 2010 at 00:20 #

    I'm with you, eggplant parmigana is at the top of my list – and it ALWAYS tastes better the next day! And, like you, I can TOTALLY eat this for breakfast without hesitation – i love your tip for pressing out the “sweat” from the eggplant – i've never done that before, i usually just salt and let sit for 10-15 minutes, rinse, then pat dry – I'm certain Angelina's method is supreme! also a great tip about not putting the mozzarella on top – frank i simply adore your blog – thank you for bringing Naples to me – since my grandmother lives in New York, and is hard of hearing to talk on the phone, and I don't get to see her often enough to glean as much from her as I long to about Naples, her life, the culture, and more…I treasure the stories and incredible cuisine you continue to bring us – thank you truly

  26. 21 August 2010 at 22:47 #

    Oh goodness, that is one luscious slice of eggplant parmesan. I would love to sit down for a meal at your table someday.

  27. 21 August 2010 at 22:33 #

    My great-grandmother was of Sicilian heritage and made it how you said, like this but no mozzarella, can't wait to make this, fresh mozzarella with this dish sounds divine!

  28. 21 August 2010 at 21:54 #

    So amazing and authentic! Eggplant parm is one of my favorites too. And your Sous Chef is a cutie!

  29. 21 August 2010 at 19:10 #

    MMMMM, Eggplant Parm, great recipe, thanks for sharing, and I am loving your Sous Chef, ADORABLE!!!!

  30. 21 August 2010 at 18:55 #

    beautiful dish, like how you 'pressed' the water out and I think my preference would be like your moms, battered and fried… great recipe to try

  31. 21 August 2010 at 16:50 #

    Fantastico piatto siciliano: provare per credere!!

  32. 21 August 2010 at 15:47 #

    Mmmmm….next time I will try Angelina's method, with the egg. Your Parmigiana di melanzane looks fabulous!! Thanks for the recipe and for all of the interesting information about it.

  33. Anonymous
    16 July 2009 at 09:56 #

    mamma mia!

  34. Anonymous
    16 July 2009 at 06:32 #

    OMG I LOVE EGGPLANT AND THIS RECIPE SOUND FANTASTIC!!!

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