Aug 5, 2010

Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmigiana recipe

OK, I feel it's time we have a serious talk about this dish.

I've heard people overseas call it "Eggplant Parmesan," and learned that there are variations of it, the most popular of these involving breaded meat cutlets, named "Veal Parmesan." This particular recipe sounds awfully like a regional specialty called Cotoletta alla Bolognese or Cotoletta alla Petroniana. But I don't know where "Chicken Parm" was developed, because I've never heard of it here in Italy. It must be an American-Italian dish.

But, back to the eggplant. I am presently obsessed with this vegetable, and have posted other recipes that use it, like stuffed eggplant, or vegetarian meatballs and eggplant crumble. I was saving this one for summer, since the best, sweetest and slenderest melanzane grow between July and October.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana is a wonderfully complex, versatile and satisfying vegetarian preparation. I have been making batches on batches of it recently, and there never seems to be enough of it!

Down south in the Campania region, birthplace of this dish––and where I've had the best Melanzane alla Parmigiana ever––there's a curious dyslexia name issue: the dish is in fact commonly known as "Parmigiana di Melanzane," with the adjective becoming the noun, and vice versa.

Whatever its name, the city of Parma has no claim on this dish. The only component present in this dish from the northern Parma territory is Parmigiano cheese, a key element of this preparation. The remaining ingredients are 100% southern Italian.

This recipe has traveled far, broken boundaries and can be found imitated all over the world.

You can prepare it in roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes. For it you'll need:

4-5 eggplants (not the round kind, better use the teardrop shaped, purple ones)
2 cups of canned tomatoes, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
A fistful of fresh basil leaves
2 eggs
5 fistfuls of flour
1 medium mozzarella (around 4 oz), diced
1/2 cup Parmigiano, grated
Vegetable oil for frying
Olive oil for sautéing
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

Slice the eggplant lengthwise, no thicker than 1 cm (1/2-inch). If the eggplants are large, "purge" away the bitter juices by sprinkling the slices with sea salt and placing them in a colander weighed down between two plates for about 10 minutes.

Brush off any leftover salt, and dredge the eggplant slices in flour and set aside, while you heat a generous amount of vegetable oil for frying in a large skillet.

Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl and dip the dredged eggplant slices in it briefly. Fry them in the skillet for about 3 minutes on each side, then rest them on a paper towel to absorb excess grease. (You could skip this step entirely, and use grilled eggplant slices instead, but who are we kidding? The fried version is ridiculously better tasting. And the real thing. A good compromise id frying the eggplant without the egg dip, for a "lighter" result.)

If you'll be using mozzarella di bufala, you'll want to set it in a colander or a sieve to lose some of its liquid, which could compromise the structure of your dish.

In a saucepan, sauté the minced garlic in 5 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. When it begins to tan lightly, add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add a dash of salt and some fresh basil leaves. I always add 1 leveled teaspoon of sugar... for superstition. Don't ask.

In a greased deep oven dish, alternate layers of the tomato sauce, fried eggplant slices and diced mozzarella. Sprinkle each layer with a generous dusting of grated Parmigiano and more basil leaves. Repeat the layers and top with a final blanket of tomato sauce, fresh torn basil leaves and lots of grated Parmigiano. 

Bake in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Allow the Melanzane alla Parmigiana to cool for 10 more minutes, then cut in 2" squares and devour.

Note: I've classified this recipe as a complete meal, bearing in mind that its filling nature can constitute a feast in itself. But consider that it normally rates as either an antipasto, or on very special holiday occasions, served as a side order!

Melanzane alla Parmigiana can be stuffed in a sandwich, or can be eaten cold straight out of the refrigerator to soothe all kinds of nervous symptoms. This is a marvelous midnight snack, and a potent antidepressant.

Buon appetito.


  1. you have such beautiful images!! and your eggplant parm looks delicious!

  2. Exactly how my mother makes it (1st generation American). And I will continue to do so.

  3. this is such comfort food!! and it doubles as an antidepressant -- who knew? ;-)

    i've also heard that eggplant has nicotine in it, so i served a mean moussaka for a friend who was trying to quit smoking -- ahh the medicinal wonders of melazane!!

    hope your vacazione is heavenly!! hugs xoxo

  4. A classic Italian taste treat!

  5. Hi Lola!
    I love this dish, but have been buying it readymade, as I never feel confident cooking aubergines.But, armed with your recipe, I'm up for giving it a try.

    And yes, I too love to eat it cold from the fridge, or in a sandwich!

    If you get a minute to call in to him, I was roasted on Eddie's spit last Sunday.

  6. looks delicious lola...i may be able to count on one hand the number of times i have eaten eggplant..this may change that...smiles.

  7. You just made me want to go in the kitchen and make this for dinner tonight! I grew up eating my grandmother's-she was from Campania and you have certainly captured the real thing-thanks!

  8. Hi Eleonora!! I love this recipe - and the background information you give is always so interesting to read. No breadcrumbs in this recipe I see - and you insist on frying the eggplant which makes me very happy!! Hope all is well - we've been making lots of zucchini dishes here on the farm - also a great grilled potato, grilled zucchini and radicchio salad!! Ciao, bella!

  9. This looks great. And it doesn't seem like a complicated recipe. My hubby keeps saying he doesn't like eggplant but I wonder...

  10. C.Dennis~ Thank you for stopping by and for leaving your comment!

    Claudia~ There's only ONE true "mamma" recipe. Glad we share it.

    Amanda~ Had no idea of the nicotine thing, how amazing! Grazie

    Saretta~ Damn, another lactose no-no! I can see omitting the mozzarella, but what about the Parmigiano?? :(

    Mimi~ Off to Clouds & Silvery Linings now!

    Brian~ I guarantee this will make you revise your stand...

    Janie~ I'm happy this matches your family's recipe!

    FHFG~ I've tried making this with zucchini instead of the eggplant. If you dio, I suggest you omit the tomato sauce, keep it simple, because zucchini are so delicate.

    Theresa~ Cant' blame you. Mine too!

    TechnoBabe~ Make it for your husband, blindfold him and feed it to him wearing very little, I'm sure he'll change his mind... ;)


  11. Ele-

    Well, your 'eggplant parm' as we call it here in New Joisey is exactly the right thing!

    The subtle differences that exist between the restaurant version and my Mother's version are dispelled in your article.

    Hard to say what's 'wrong' with those versions but you are so right that I'd never heard of Chicken Parmigiana till I was a grown up!

    And whatever else you included in your heavenly recipe is exactly the 'right way' as far as I'm concerned......

    You and my mother got it right! And I can smell it right now!


  12. Hi Eleonora, thanks for the tip about using zucchini - I'll give it a try without the sauce.

  13. I love your blog but have never commented so far. But now you have written about my favourite dish, I am compelled. I lived in Italy for a while, and your recipe is almost exactly how I was taught to make this, except not with eggs. Hmm, eggs and eggplant (though being a Brit I prefer a more neighbourly aubergine). I will try it your way. Grazie mille for your continued efforts and inspiration.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Another batch of very stimulating comments and tips!

    Roseann~ I am flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as your mom! Thanks for your lovely comment ;)
    FHFG~ Let me know how it turns out when you do make it!!
    Rose~ A facebook friend who is originally from Calabria says that's how they make it there, frying the slices without dredging and "egging" them. I'll have to give it a try myself. Then we can compare swapped versions!

    Ciao friends!!

  16. I'm sure chicken parm came about over here as a cheaper substitute for veal parmigiana. And, in most instances I've seen, the "parm" is almost non-existent, being all mozzarella. Still, I enjoy it, but I much prefer a well-prepared eggplant parmigiana. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

  17. Jim~ Excellent, then you can join our taste test to see which frying version is best!


  18. eleonora, this is one of my favorite meals in the entire world. i make it much like this recipe: the tomatoes by themselves give the eggplant room to shine and with fresh parm. cheese: OMG!

    do you think there is eggplant in heaven?

    and if there is, do you think someone is making this wonderful recipe for renee?


  19. KJ~ This dish is among my favorites too, probably invented in heaven! And the way I see it, Renee is making it for everyone up there. A butterfly told me she has learned to cook...

  20. I made this last night with zucchini and it was fantastic (i left the rest of the recipe as is), I loved it!


  21. Mmmm, one of my favourite dishes ever...

  22. Ciao!

    Kristie~ I love this kind of feedback, thank you. You left the tomato sauce too? Brava, I was afraid the sauce might overshadow the delicate zucchini.

    Nicoletta~ I know, how can it not be for some, I wonder. Grazie for stopping by.

  23. Oh yum! I'm so glad we had this talk. ;-)


  24. Paz~ And I'm so glad you're back here!! Shall I serve you a portion? Wine? ;)

  25. Eleonora,

    I'm a bit late here, but thank you for this wonderful version. There is one question I've always wanted to ask about this dish, and I figure you or someone else can answer it: why leave the skin on the melanzane? is it so that it doesn't disintigrate? I say this because - when eating eggplant parm. I really dislike the texture of the skin. And when I fry eggplant (as an antipasti, just in hot oil, with no flour or egg), I take off the skins. So, just wondering: would it ruin it to take off the skins? I don't think so, but I wanted to get your opinion.

  26. Daniel~ the skins on eggplant can be tough, yes. But that only happens with bigger and less fresh specimens. What you have to look for–when cooking them in ANY fashion–are small, oblong baby melanzane. The younger and fresher, then more tender the skin.
    Do you purge them with salt? That helps too. If you peel them they do tend to fall apart, yes. Which is OK, the only drawback being that they lose their inner original texture, becoming a puree.

    I like these comments! Ciao

  27. Yes, please. I'll take a double portion and some wine. Thankyouverymuch. ;-)

  28. Paz~ about a second helping? ;)

  29. Io sono Italiana del sud, vi posso dire che le uova non le uso, infarino solo le melanzane e poi le friggo, alterno sugo, mozzarella tagliata a dadini, e abbondante parmigiano o grana padano, poi le inforno per mezz'ora a 180 gradi. Vi assicuro che piacciano molto, e che le uova con questo piatto non c'entrano niente, lo appesantiscono, provatelo, sono una cuoca e per me questo è uno dei piatti più semplici che faccio, credetemi. susanna