Eggplant Parmigiana is perhaps one of Italy's best-known exports–and rightfully so. It's a satisfying, hearty vegetable dish made of deep-fried or grilled slices of eggplant layered with mozzarella, a simple tomato sauce, basil, and of course the recipe's namesake: Parmesan cheese.
There is much debate over whether Parmigiana originates in Sicily or Campagna, although some believe its name could also indicate that the dish comes from the northern province of Parma, where Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano) is made. It's a much-loved dish that several southern Italian regions would be happy to claim as their own–even if Pecorino cheese is more typical of these regions than Parmesan. In any case, eggplants grow beautifully in southern Italy and thus appear in a variety of traditional dishes, like this baked pasta with eggplant.
Parmigiana Bianca, or "White" Eggplant Parmesan, hails from Puglia, Italy's heel. The main difference between this recipe and its more famous counterpart is the lack of tomato sauce–but there are as many variations on Parmigiana Bianca as there are households in Italy. Some cooks substitute the missing tomato sauce with bechamel, and some simply leave it out. In this version, a mixture of eggs and cheese enriches and holds the Parmigiana together, much like the southern French tian. While fresh mozzarella cheese is the traditional and favorite cheese to use alongside Parmesan, you could replace it with provola or caciocavallo. In every adaptation, the result is a gentler, sweeter Parmigiana.
In all of its variations, Eggplant Parmigiana is usually served as an antipasto–cut into small pieces and presented alongside a delicious platter of salumi, olives, marinated vegetables, fresh cheeses, and lovely deep-fried things–or, more traditionally, as a contorno, a side dish that might arrive between the first (pasta) and second (main) course. Incidentally, it also makes for great, portable picnic fare. —Emiko
- Serves 4 to 6 as part of an antipasto
Olive oil for frying
(60 grams) dried breadcrumbs
(125 milliliters) milk
(80 grams) Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
(200 grams) fresh mozzarella (about 1 large ball), provola, or caciocavallo cheese
- Cut the eggplant into 1-centimeter slices and sprinkle each with salt on one side. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours. Rinse and pat the slices dry, then fry them in plenty of olive oil (or grill with a little olive oil) until golden brown and tender. Place the slices on paper towels to drain any excess oil and set aside until needed.
- Prepare a casserole dish by greasing it with olive oil and dusting with a tablespoon of the breadcrumbs.
- Beat the eggs and milk together with a pinch of salt and half of the Parmesan cheese.
- Layer the eggplant in a casserole dish with the mozzarella and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Pour the egg mixture over the eggplant and mozzarella. Finish with the rest of the Parmesan and a final sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven at 350º F (180º C) until the eggs are set and the top is golden and crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve as part of an antipasto.