Nello’s Baked Aubergines with Tomato and Mozzarella

La Parmigiana di Melanzane di Nello

Last May we were invited to lunch at Nello and Vera Oliviero’s lovely villa overlooking the bay of Positano, on the gloriously romantic Amalfi coast near Naples. We could not have dreamed of a more perfect setting: the villa is right at the top of the cliff, reached only by a winding pathway. Here, amongst all kinds of flowers and shrubs, surrounded by lemon trees heavy with fruit, we stood on the terrace and looked down to the beaches and across the blue water into the distance.

Nello and I were to cook his version of Parmigiana di melanzane together on this very terrace, but sadly he was ill that day and could not cook. Vera stepped in for him and between us we prepared this sumptuously rich, lavish dish of layered aubergines with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil - plus, of course, the Parmesan cheese which gives the dish its name. My thanks go to the Oliviero family for being such wonderful hosts, for letting us into their home despite Nello’s illness, for cooking us such a lovely lunch, and for teaching me how to make this dish!

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Ingredients

  • about 10 fl oz (300 ml) oil
  • 2 aubergines, cut lengthways into slices ½ inch (1 cm) thick
  • 8 fl oz (250 ml) cold basic tomato sauce
  • 4 oz (100 g) mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 4 oz (100 g) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • about 12 fresh basil leaves

Method

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C).

Heat the oil and fry the sliced aubergines in it until golden brown. Drain them very thoroughly on kitchen paper.

Cover the bottom of an 8 inch (20 cm) baking dish with about 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce. Arrange a layer of aubergines on top, making sure they all point in the same direction. Cover with a layer of mozzarella, a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of Parmesan cheese and a few torn basil leaves. Repeat with a second or third layer, depending upon the size of the aubergines and the shape of the dish. Finish off with a thickish layer of tomato sauce and plenty of cheese and basil. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. Serve cold or just warm.

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