פרמיג'יאנה מלנזנה. צילום: Jennifer Balcombe
פרמיג'יאנה מלנזנה. צילום: Jennifer Balcombe
Recipe

Nonna Bianca’s Eggplant Parmigiana

Nonna Bianca’s Aubergine Parmigiana was a cornerstone of her Roman Thursday lunches. Prepared cold and unbaked, it makes for a great summertime meal.

For a large part of my childhood, I thought that Nonna Bianca’s parmigiana, which is served cold, was the real recipe and the hot baked version was but a variation. Of course, it is the other way around, and my grandmother’s cold version is an example of the creativity of Italian-Jewish cuisine, which makes small adjustments and creates its own new classics. I am lucky to have a grandmother who was such a creative cook. It was a cornerstone of her Roman Thursday lunches, and ideal for summer. 

This dish may seem similar to its sister recipe eggplant parmesan, but it results in quite a different eating experience: it is eaten cold, has no mozzarella, needs no baking and you salt the eggplant.

Nonna Bianca always said it was important to salt the eggplant before cooking so their bitter liquid would be drawn out and they would absorb less oil. I follow her advice, not only out of respect for her, but also because I can see how a dish that is eaten cold would otherwise feel laden with oil. Salting also makes the eggplant taste interestingly smoky. This recipe would be quicker without salting, but if you take your time and go through all the steps, you will probably never look back.

The finished dish keeps well for several days in the fridge.

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Jewish Flavours of Italy cover. Silvia Nacamulli

Ingredients for Eggplant Parmigiana

  • 3–4 eggplants about 2lb 12oz (1.2 kg), cut into ¼ in (5 cm) thick rounds
  • 4–5 tablespoons coarse salt or kosher salt, to salt the eggplants
  • light olive oil or sunflower oil, for deep-frying
  • 3 ½ –4 ½ oz (100–120 grams) parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • Atlantic sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

For the tomato sauce

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1lb 5oz– 1lb 9oz or 2 ½ –scant 3 cups (600–700 grams) crushed tomatoes
  • 6-7 basil leaves

Instructions

Salting the eggplant:

  • 1. Place eggplant rounds in a large colander in layers, with a tablespoon of coarse or kosher salt sprinkled over each layer. Weigh them down with something heavy (a bowl or saucepan full of cold water is ideal) and leave them for 30–40 minutes.

  • 2. When a dark liquid begins to drain, rinse off the salt under cold running water (don’t worry, they won’t reabsorb the liquid they’ve just lost). Pat the slices dry with paper towels.

In the meantime, make the tomato sauce:

  • 3. Put the oil and garlic in a medium frying pan and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes, then add the crushed tomato, a good pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook for 25–30 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally.

  • 4. Once cooked, tear in a couple leaves of basil, stir and set aside to cool. Keep the remaining basil leaves for garnish.

Frying the eggplant

  • 5. Heat a large, heavy-based, shallow saucepan with about 1 ½-2 inches (4-5 cm) oil over medium heat until hot. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil is hot enough by dropping in a cube of bread: it should float rather than sink, and sizzle immediately on contact with the oil.)

  • 6. Lower a few eggplant slices into the hot oil until you have a thick single layer with no overlapping. Fry the eggplant for a couple of minutes on each side until golden. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and place in a sieve over a bowl or plate to drain the oil. Just before the next batch is ready, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Repeat the frying process with the remaining eggplant slices.

To assemble Eggplant Parmigiana

  • 7. To assemble, spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the base of a nonreactive glass or ceramic dish, about 6 x 8 inches (15 x 20 cm), then add a layer of eggplant, some tomato sauce over each eggplant slice (about 4 tablespoons per layer), and 2–3 tablespoons of  Parmesan. Add another layer of eggplant and repeat until all the ingredients have been used. There should be enough for four layers, the final one being tomato sauce and Parmesan, with more basil leaves as garnish.

  • 8. Leave to stand, covered with plastic wrap, for a few hours and serve at room temperature. It is even better refrigerated and eaten the following day. Simply remove from the fridge about 30 minutes beforehand, and serve it, ideally with bread.

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TIP: My family likes to pass the dish around the table for everyone to take a portion from the layers, one by one. We don’t cut right through – as you would do with a baked dish – perhaps because this way we can savor every delicious juicy bite…

 

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