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.
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
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.