For years, Giuseppina De Palma would bring over a still-warm-from-the-oven terracotta dish of parmigiana, as she called it. And when I asked her for the recipe, thinking I could make this when I returned to San Francisco, she wrote it down, a little hesitantly. Here it is (translated):
She didn’t include quantity nor any scrap of instruction. She assumed I would know how to make it.
The next time she came over, I asked for a demonstration, and after having made this recipe a few dozen times since, I’m sending you how it’s done. We included it in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.
Note on the name: parmigiana di melanzane or melanzane alla parmigiana, or as Giusi calls it, just parmigiana. Or as it might be called in the USA, “eggplant parm.” I had always thought the recipe originated in Parma, since Parmigiano-Reggiano, produced there, figured prominently in the name of the recipe. Some believe that Sicily lays claim to its invention, the island having received eggplants from the Arabs (who brought them from India) in the 15th century. And then at some point cooks in Naples added their mozzarella di bufala - and they too laid claim. In any case, it’s one of the best things ever to happen to an eggplant or (as the French and English say) aubergine.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2-3 medium eggplants, peeled (or not) and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/3 cup Bramasole Olive Oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups tomato sauce (see below)
1 handful basil leaves, torn
4 ounces (1 cup) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded mozzarella
¼ cup Bramasole Olive Oil
1 yellow onion, minced
8 tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
8 to 10 basil leaves, torn
½ teaspoon salt
1⁄3 teaspoon pepper
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until golden and soft. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a brisk simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until glossy and thickened.
Place the eggplant slices on 2 parchment-lined sheet pans. Brush them with the olive oil, salt and pepper them, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until barely fork tender.
Spoon some tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Make a layer using 1/3 of the eggplant slices, then a layer of tomato sauce, a few basil leaves, 1/3 of the parmigiano, and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Add another two layers of eggplant, sauce, and basil, finishing with parmigiano and mozzarella on top.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbling.
Giusi’s version: Lightly dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, shaking off the excess. Add extra-virgin olive oil to a large skillet and heat the oil to about 350ºF. Quick-fry the eggplant slices in batches, until lightly browned, about 1 minute on each side. Drain them on both sides on paper towels and salt them.
Excerpt From The Tuscan Sun Cookbook
Frances Mayes, Edward Mayes & Steven Rothfeld