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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« italian roasted bell pepper salad: simple ingredients yield big flavor | Main | chicken cacciatora: simplicity and goodness at italy's fontana del papa »

eggplant parmigiana: perfect for the eggplant-shy


I've never been a big fan of eggplant. The oblong, deep purple nightshade has always struck me as somewhat bland and mealy.

Then I discovered eggplant parmigiana while staying at Fontana del Papa, a farm and cooking school an hour east of Rome. Matilde Viozzi, the 60-year-old instructor and expert in Italian cuisine from Tolfa, introduced me to this classic recipe, and after tasting a rich, savory slice of it I was converted. The dish managed to turn the thick-skinned, flavorless vegetable into a silky textured treat with profound depth of flavor.

While I cooked more than a dozen dishes during my three-day stay at Fontana del Papa, this was probably the tastiest and most comforting.

Matilde made the red sauce with medium-sized spring onions, which were smaller than leeks but larger than green onions and had a peppery bite unlike anything I'd tasted. Since I could not find the same onions here, I added garlic and shallot to replicate the intense flavor. The results were delicious and comparable to the version I learned in Italy.

The modified recipe and step-by-step process is shown below as I learned it at Fontana del Papa.

Eggplant Parmigiana

20 basil leaves, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons diced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
a pinch of red pepper flakes
3, 15-ounce cans crushed tomato
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium eggplant
1-1/2 cup grated mozzarella
2 cups finely grated parmesan
About 2 cups vegetable oil for frying
About 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour for dredging

For the sauce. Combine garlic, onion, shallot, basil, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. Simmer for about five minutes over medium heat and then add the tomato. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for about 30 - 40 minutes. Set aside or store in the refrigerator until you're ready to layer it with the eggplant. The sauce is best when it's made in advance.

For the eggplant. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into half-inch think pieces, salt both sides, then let them sit for 20 minutes. This draws out the moisture. After 20 minutes, rinse, and then pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Matilde dries the eggplant.

Dredge the eggplant slices in flour and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a pan until it's very hot and fry the eggplant for about 1-2 minutes on each side or until slightly golden.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the bottom of the pan with sauce and then layer with the eggplant slices, fitting them in the pan like pieces in a puzzle. Use kitchen scissors to cut the slices down to fill in gaps as needed.

Add another layer of sauce over the eggplant and then cover with 1 cup parmesan and 3/4 cup mozzarella. Add another layer of eggplant and cover with sauce.

Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan evenly over the layer of sauce and then top with the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

My plate at Fontana del Papa


Reader Comments (17)

Not at all, I am far from shy for eggplant. I'll be making this for sure!

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelra

Again, Thanks for the recipes. We love eggplant .

May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMely

I love how she leaves the skin on the eggplant. I read so many recipes that say to peel it. We always left it on!
Big hugs, Angela! That last photo is the bomb :)

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaryann

I'm trying to convert my significant others to try eggplant - this is a great recipe to start :) Thanks!

Elra and Mely -- Thanks! It's nice to join the party. :)

Maryann -- I was always slightly put off by the skins but you don't even notice them in this recipe. They taste like pure butter.

Natasha -- This is the perfect dish to convert your significant other. He'll never look at another eggplant the same way again!

May 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Awesome recipe, but Eggplant Parmesan is an incorrect name for the dish. I always assumed it was "parmagiana" in "the style of Parma, Italy", however it seems that is not the case either:

In La Cucina tradizionale siciliana, by Anna Pomar she writes.

"This is an ancient Sicilian dish which, in all cookbooks it is erroneously stated that the dish obtains its name from parmesan cheese which is one of the ingredients. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The name "parmigiana" does not derive from that of the cheese but is the Italianization of the Sicilian dialectic word "parmiciana" which are the slats of wood which compose the central part of a shutter and overlap in the same manner as the slices of eggplant in the dish."

So "Egplant Parmagiana: is probobly a lot more correct...

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Thanks, Martin! That's great to know. I made the change in the blog. It looks like the most common spelling is "parmigiana" so I went with that. Thanks again. Cheers!

May 11, 2009 | Registered CommenterAngela

That looks so tasty!

May 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I saw this on Elra's Cooking and have been craving eggplant parmesan. I love eggplant in almost any form, but this is my favorite. I will be making this very soon. Thanks for the great recipe, sauce and all!

August 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I just made this fabulous Eggplant Parmesan and posted it on my blog with a shout out to you! We all loved it!

August 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I love eggplant and this looks really good.

August 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Food Hunter

Hi there Angela,
Just dropping a line to let you know that I cooked this recipe last week. I receive fresh produce every week from a farm and last week I got two eggplants and a lot of fresh tomatoes. The parsley and basil came from pots in the balcony. The results was an exquisite dish that we couldn't get our hands out of it.

Thanks a lot for sharing this recipes, and spreading your good time in Italy to other homes.

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMely

Jamie and Mely: I couldn't be happier that you both made the dish and loved it. Thanks for writing and sharing the awesome results. A presto!

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

I am assuming that the shallots go in with the onion, garlic and basil as most consider them onions? In the process of making it so will let you know how it turns out. Love the pictures!

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAli

Ali -- Yes! Thanks for the clarification. I'll make the change. Let me know how it turns out. Thanks for the note. Cheers! Angela

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Aloha Angela! I was thinking of making this dish tonight so I went to the Fontana site to get the recipe and thought I would check out your blog version too... Difference...on their site it says to grill eggplant on yours you fry...have you tried the grilled version also?

March 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeralyn

Aloha Geralyn! We definitely fried our eggplant. I suppose it would be healthier grilled but I would think it would lose its silkiness that is so classic for this dish. Good luck and let me know how it goes! Hugs, Angela

March 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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