November 11, 2022
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What is “parimgiana?” You will see this word on recipes and menus in Italy, but what exactly is it? In a nutshell, it means it is a dish made with a tomato sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or a similar substitute).
When you see “alla” incuded in the name of an Italian dish, it generally means “in the style of.” Some classic examples, besides melanzane alla parimgiana, are pasta alla norma, pasta all’amatriciana, pasta alla carbonara, cotolette alla milanese, or risotto alla milanese.
What is interesting about “alla parmigiana” is that it would literally mean “in the style of Parma,” but it is actually a southern Italian dish (and Parma is in the north).
Why is this? There are a few different theories. Some say that it’s because it hails from the word “parrmiciana” in the Sicilian dialect (a type of wooden slatted blind), which calls to mind the layering of the eggplant. But it seems more likely that it is because parmesan cheese (parmigiano), one of the main cheeses used, hails from the region around Parma and is named for it.
This dish, melanzane alla parmigiana, is also called a parmigiana di melanzane, or a “parmigiana-style dish with eggplant.”
You will find many versions of this recipe that call for breading and then frying the eggplant. That is also extremely tasty, but the version without the breading is the classic version (and easier as well). If you want to bread it though, just dip the eggplant slices in egg and then flour before frying.
If you want a healthier version, you can also grill the eggplant either on a charcoal or gas grill, or under the broiler in the oven.
The recipe calls for tomato puree, but what is better is to use either Italian “passata di pomodoro” or make your own by passing canned whole tomatoes through a food mill. the result is a better tomato flavor and a slightly looser consistency.
You will often see eggplant parmesan served with pasta in the US, but in Italy it is a stand alone main dish (a vegetarian secondo). And although this recipe makes one large dish, you could easily use smaller baking dishes to create individual-sized portions.
This recipe is for eggplant, but you can also make cotolette alla parmigiana (Chicken Parmesan) by substituting thinly sliced chicken for the eggplant, or try a parmigiana di zucchine by using zucchini instead of eggplant!
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Cook method: Fry and Bake
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle them with salt and leave them to drain either in a colander or in a baking dish lined with paper towels.
2. Cut the mozzarella into small cubes, and put in a strainer to let the excess moisture drain off.
3. Start the sauce. Heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the tomato puree or “passata.” Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Season conservatively with salt and pepper and set aside–remember, the eggplant has already been salted, and the parmigiano will also add a good amount of salt.
5. Heat the seed or vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottom pan to 350 degrees. Pat the eggplant sliced dry, then fry them a few slices at a time for 3-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drain each batch on a draining rack or on paper towels and continue until all the slices have been fried.
6. Prepare a large casserole or rectangular baking pan to assemble the dish. First spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Next, put a layer of eggplant slices, overlapping them a bit. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce, then sprinkle with some of the parmigiano, basil leaves, and mozzarella pieces.
7. Repeat this step until you use all of the eggplant, or the dish is full. Make sure the last layer is sauce, parmigiano, and mozzarella.
8. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Are you a fan of “parmigiana” dishes? Let us know your favorites in the comments!
You can learn to make this and other delicious dishes on our cooking vacations in Italy, which feature fun hands-on cooking classes, excursions, accommodations, and more.
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By Peg Kern
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