Mangiare, mangiare, it's eggplant parmigiana.
What is The Good Room exactly? It is a common trait among European families to have a secondary lounge room that purely exists for show. In my experience my Nonna's good room is positioned at the front of her house, with the door always wide open so guests/electrical technicians/friends from her bingo club get a fleeting glimpse as they walk down the corridor to the rest of the house. This passing glimpse communicates that Nonna can preserve one room, and keep it in immaculate condition like it's Marie Antoinette's roped parlour in Versailles if she chooses, but she doesn't trust you enough to sit in it. Instead we're all relegated to sit on the 3-piece corduroy couch from Fantastic Furniture in the child proof/adult proof/espresso stain proof living room at the back of the house with Italian cable playing.
I once broke into the The Good Room when I was three and did a little Matisse magic in pink texta on the drapes. I had been in exile since, but my sentenced finished the day we shot this room for this series. And let me tell you, freedom feels good. Nevertheless, there was one benefit to being relegated to the 'other' living room at the back of the house, and that was all about proximity to the kitchen. While Nonna cooks she will often call us in the to taste the food as she prepares it. Because of this, I have sampled deconstructed versions of pretty much every Italian dish in her extensive repertoire. However, my favourite is her eggplant parmigiana.
It is real comfort food. Let me set the scene. Imagine individually crumbled and fried eggplant slices, layered with homemade Napoletana sauce and bitty Reggiano-Parmigiano in between, topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. HEAVEN ON EARTH (or at least in Moonee Ponds). And on that hyperbolic note, I bid you arrivederci, as I present the final recipe from Nonna Corso's kitchen.
For the sauce
700ml bottle of pasta
1 clove garlic
1/2 brown onion, diced
1 small chilli
A sprinkle of dried chilli flakes
1 bunch fresh basil
A splash of red wine
A pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper for seasoning
For the melanzane
2 large egpplants
2 eggs whisked
Good quality breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to season
There are two components to this dish that need to be prepared before we can layer up – making the sauce and making the fried melanzane.
The sauce recipe I use as a base for this dish is identical to the one I used in my Nonna's Calabrese Fusilli with Meatballs recipe. Follow this exact recipe minus the meatballs. If you want to be super strategic, make a double batch of this sauce, so you can eat pasta one night, then use the leftover sauce for this eggplant parmigiana the next night. Onto the eggplant. Get two large eggplants and slice them horizontally so you have lots of eggplant-shaped circles. Now whisk two eggs in a shallow bowl, and add some salt and cracked pepper. In another shallow bowl add some good quality breadcrumbs – you can leave them plain or add some grated parmesan cheese and dried oregano to flavour them.
Now it’s time to DIY assembly line and coat each individual eggplant slice in the egg mixture, then dip it in the breadcrumb mixture and pop it on a clean plate. It is a little laborious, but worth it. Once all eggplants have been coated, using a mid-based fry pan add olive oil to the pan (a generous amount) and let that oil get HOT. Do a test eggplant, if it doesn’t immediately sizzle when you place it in the pan, the oil isn’t hot enough. Once oil is hot, start frying the eggplant in batches (3 minutes or so each side). When the eggplant is cooked, rest them on some paper towel.
Assembling the dish, Nonna style
I know, I know, I am making you work hard for this dish. That's why I am rewarding you with taste-as-you-cook-snacks while you parmigiana it up, it's all about positive reinforcement, or so I have heard. So woof down some (not all) melanzane slices as you go, and trial the sauce by dunking some bread in it. With this recipe I prefer to assemble the dish in a single serve claypot dish or ramekin. For two reasons. One, a good parmigiana is likely to fall apart if you serve it hot, making you look like an ungracious host when it falls off the spatula and lands in your guest's lap. Eating straight out of a miniature dish prevents this social faux pas. Secondly and most importantly, cooking it in the bowl you intend to serve it in means less dirty dishes later.
First pre-heat a fan forced oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Now in an oven-proof dish of your choosing, brush a thin layer of olive oil all around the sides with a pastry brush. Then ladle one scoop of the sauce at the bottom of the dish, then place the eggplant slices down to create your first layer of the eggplant parmigiana. Add another ladle of sauce on top of this eggplant layer, then cover the sauce with a good helping of grated good quality Italian fresh parmesan. First layer, finito. Repeat this method until you have reached the top of your dish. The top of the eggplant parmigiana should have a generous layer of sauce, lots of cheese and sprinkling of fine bread crumbs. The secret addition of extra bread crumbs gives the dish a nice crunch.
Your first eggplant parmigiana is done, again repeat this cycle another three times, so that you are left with four in total. Pop them in the oven and cook for up to 30 minutes. When the bread crumbs look golden it is time to take them out, so check on the parmigiana at regular intervals. Remember the eggplant is pretty much already cooked in the frying stage, which is why the oven stage is pretty quick. Serve this dish piping hot with some crusty bread. The next day it tastes even better.
Sometimes I will eat it straight out of the fridge stone cold, as I am too impatient to put it in the microwave. I'm also a moderately messy eater, which is why I will NEVER be allowed to eat my Nonna's eggplant parmigiana in The Good Room. A girl can only dream.
This recipe was originally published on The Design Files as part of my Nonna Corso recipe series with photos by Eve Wilson. Yes, all of these recipes are certified nonna approved.