Food for Thought

This month I want to introduce you to a dish that has become a massive favourite of mine since I first tried it more than 10 years ago, it’s called Parmigiana di Melanzane.

Ok don’t panic, it may sound a little exotic, but Melanzane is the Italian for Aubergine. The creation of the dish is claimed by almost every region of Italy, but the use of mozzarella and tomatoes give a strong indication that it’s a dish from the south.

The dish itself can be served as a starter, main, or as an accompaniment to meat or fish, so is very versatile, and also enjoyable cold.

You’ll need a shallow casserole dish or baking tray which should measure around 13 x 8 inches and needs to be greased, and the following ingredients……

1.5kg Aubergines

Plain flour

200ml extra virgin olive oil

500ml tomato passata

2 tablespoons roughly torn basil leaves

250g grated mozzarella cheese, (Rick Stein prefers ‘Taleggio’, but this is expensive and you may not find any in Syston!)

100g grated parmesan cheese

This will serve approximately 8.

Top and tail the aubergines and slice lengthways into one cm thick slices. Layer the slices in a large colander, sprinkling salt between each layer then leave for  one hour to extract the bitter juices. Rinse and pat dry on both sides with paper towels and coat the Aubergine slices lightly with flour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F or Gas mark 4.

Heat 125ml of the olive oil in a large frying pan, quickly fry the aubergine in batches over moderately high heat until crisp and golden on both sides. You’ll need extra oil as you go along, and maybe a little more on top. Drain well on paper towels as you remove each batch from the pan.

Make a slightly overlapping layer of aubergine slices over the base of the dish. Season with black pepper. Spoon four tablespoons of passata over the aubergine and scatter a few pieces of basil on top. Sprinkle with some mozzarella, followed by some parmesan. Continue with this layering until you have used up all of the ingredients.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Some restaurants that I’ve visited are happy to charge £5-6 pound for this as a starter, and close to £10 as a main. You’ll make the entire dish for less than that!, although maybe not the first time around if you buy a decent extra virgin olive oil.

I really urge all of you to try this, and would really appreciate any feedback that you have.

Happy Cooking

Barry Russell (Assistant Editor)