La Parmigiana

Layered Vegetable and Mozzarella Casserole with Parmigiano

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

Classic Italian Cooking

Classic Italian Cooking

By Valentina Harris

Published 2008

  • About

This wonderful, rich and luscious vegetable dish is layered like a lasagna, and always tastes so much better the day after you’ve made it! Although the name of this dish might suggest that the dish comes from the fair city of Parma, this is confusing because the origins of the dish actually lie in and around Naples. I was first taught how to make the dish in the very traditional Neapolitan way—which calls specifically for long, oblong eggplants—in the town of Poistano at the home of one of the region’s most highly respected gastronomes.

This recipe is the traditional and classic version using eggplants, but you can also make it with zucchini, potatoes, artichoke bases, or a combination of any of those. You can griddle or bake the eggplant slices instead of frying them if you are worried about the finished dish becoming too greasy. Because eggplants can contain bitter juices, which might spoil the overall flavor of the dish, I recommend that you salt the sliced eggplants before cooking, as explained in step 3 of this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 3 long eggplants, washed and cut lengthwise into rounds, ends discarded
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 12 oz mozzarella, drained and sliced
  • 2⅔ cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce

  • 3 to 5 tablespoons richly flavoured extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or crushed
  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded or 2 cups canned or puréed tomatoes

Method

  1. Make the tomato sauce first. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan or skillet. Add the garlic and fry very gently until soft. Pour in the tomatoes and stir carefully. Cover and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is glossy and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cover. Remove the pan from the heat, and keep warm.
  2. An alternative method is to heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet. Add the garlic and fry until browned, then remove and discard. Pour the tomatoes into the garlic flavored oil. Finish the sauce with a handful of fresh basil, cover and allow to cool before use.
  3. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and lay them in a large colander. Cover with a plate and put a weight on top of the plate. Stand the colander in the sink for 1 hour to let the bitter juices of the eggplants drain away.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rinse the eggplants under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the sunflower oil in a wide skillet. Add the eggplant slices and quickly fry until soft and golden brown.
  5. Drain them carefully and thoroughly on paper towels to remove as much of the oil as possible.
  6. Use some olive oil to grease a shallow ovenproof dish. Place a little of the tomato sauce on the base of the dish, then cover with a layer of slightly overlapping eggplant slices.
  7. Cover with a layer of mozzarella, a layer of tomato sauce, a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a few torn basil leaves. Repeat until the dish is filled and all the ingredients have been used.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

“The taste of basil, parmesan and olive oil, the smell of garlic frying with sage and rosemary, bring back the brilliant light and pure primary colours, with images of Italy and feelings of joy and enchantment.”

Claudia Roden, The Food of Italy