Sunday, 19 June 2011

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

And that's a crying shame really, as what is more inspiring in the kitchen than cheese? Oozy, melty, crispy, salty cheese lovingly draped over a burger, between layers of noodles, or, in this case, layers of grilled eggplant.

Cheese takes a humble batch of veggies and turns them into food for the gods. Or, you know, food for my cheese-loving family.

This version of melanzane alla Parmigiana, eggplant Parmesan, is layered in a large pan like lasagna. And it is so deliciously savoury and cheesy, that you won't miss having meat on your plate. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from having a little grilled something-something on the side. It is Father's Day, after all.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Aubergine Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmesan
servings 6

adapted from Jamie's Italy,


• 3 large firm aubergines
• olive oil
• 1 large or 2 smaller onions, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 or more bulbs of spring garlic, if you can get it, or 6 cloves of regular garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
• 2 x 400g tins good-quality plum tomatoes or 1kg fresh ripe tomatoes
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• a little wine vinegar
• a large handful of fresh basil
• 4 large handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 handfuls of dried breadcrumbs - Panko
• a little fresh oregano, leaves chopped

• 1 x 150g ball of buffalo mozzarella 


This classic northern Italian recipe is a great way to serve aubergines. By layering them with Parmesan and tomatoes and then baking them you get an absolutely moreish, scrumptious vegetable dish. Great served with all sorts of roasted meats and with roasted fish as well.

First things first: remove the stalks from the aubergines, slice them up into 1cm thick slices, and put to one side. Whether you’re using a griddle pan or a barbecue, get it really hot. Meanwhile, put 2 or 3 glugs of olive oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and dried oregano and cook for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and the garlic has a tiny bit of colour. If you’re using tinned tomatoes, break them up, and if you’re using fresh tomatoes (which will obviously taste sweeter and more delicious, if they’re in season), very quickly prick each one and put them into a big pan of boiling water for 40 seconds. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them into a bowl of cold water for 30 seconds, then remove the skins, carefully squeeze out the pips and cut up the flesh. Add the tomato flesh or tinned tomatoes to the onion, garlic and oregano. Give the mixture a good stir, then put a lid on the pan and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, oil, season and grill the aubergines on both sides until lightly charred – you may have to do them in batches, as they probably won’t all fit into your griddle pan in one go. As each batch is finished, remove them to a tray and carry on grilling the rest until they’re all nicely done. When the tomato sauce is reduced and sweet, season it carefully with salt, pepper and a tiny swig of wine vinegar, and add the basil. You can leave the sauce chunky or you can purée it.

Get yourself an earthenware type dish (25 x 12–15cm). Put in a small layer of tomato sauce, then a thin scattering of Parmesan, followed by a single layer of aubergines. Repeat these layers until you’ve used all the ingredients up, finishing with a little sauce and another good sprinkling of Parmesan. I like to toss the breadcrumbs in olive oil with a little freshly chopped oregano and sprinkle them on top of the Parmesan. Sometimes the dish is served with torn-up mozzarella on top, which is nice too.

Place the dish in the oven and bake at 190°C/375°F/gas 5 for half an hour until golden, crisp and bubbly. It’s best eaten straight away, but it can also be served cold. You can use the same method substituting courgettes or fennel for the aubergines – both are delicious. But do try making it with aubergines – you’ll love it!