If I had to choose a vegetable to represent Sicily it would be the Eggplant. They love this strange vegetable here. They have multiple varieties and for this recipe I prefer the “viola” which is a short and stout light purple eggplant. You can see a picture of it below. Im not sure if they have this varietal in the States …let me know!
In the States the slang is Eggplant “Parm” as in Parmesan. Whats funny about this dish is that in Sicily they just call it “Parmigiana” on the menus. Everyone knows that its eggplant (Eggplant in Italian is Melanzane – pronounced Mel-en-zan- a) because Sicily is known for their eggplant dishes. One of the big culinary surprises in moving over here was that they don’t do chicken parmigiana. This is definitely a staple in the American/Italian menu, but throughout Italy you will not find it! In fact one night I was making chicken parmigiana at the house and our gardener popped in for a bit and said “buono perfumo!, Che cos’è?” (smells good! what is that?) I explained it was chicken parmigiana and he was completely baffled and almost disgruntled by the idea. I think I have mentioned before how strict they are about recipes and traditions. If you try to take them outside of their comfort zone with food they will let you know. I can’t even imagine the reaction if I showed them a chicken parm or eggplant parm sandwich!!! They would surely have a brain meltdown.
hmmmm…. do I want to talk more about how much it bugs me that most Sicilians won’t try recipes other than the standard 20 or so Sicilian recipes? just move onto the recipe Nick….
Ingredients ( These amounts can be increased according to how many eggplants you get.. this recipe fills an 8″x12″ baking dish ):
- 4 lbs of Eggplants (Viola variety if possible)(usually around 3 for this weight)
- 3 cups Tomato sauce (this is just a plain tomato sauce…. also a fresh made tomato sauce is always preferred)
- 1 lb shredded Mozzarella or Caciocavallo
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 4-5 cups Frying oil such as peanut, sunflower seed, or vegetable
- Basil leaves
- Lotsa salt
Cut the top and bottom off of the eggplant. Put the eggplant on its side and cut 1/4″ thick slices. Lay each of the slices on a dish towel and generously salt both sides. Let sit for an hour. Take another dish towel and press firmly on top of the slices to extract as much liquid as possible. Sometimes I even wrap a slice in a towel and squeeze it in my fist to squeeze out as much liquid as possible… its a good stress release.
Preheat the oven to 375. Heat the oil in a big cast iron dutch oven. Fry the eggplant slices until lightly golden on both sides. Remove onto paper towel and pat dry.
At the bottom of your oven dish put a little bit of olive oil to coat the bottom along with some of the sauce. Now its time for stacking! It goes in this order: 1. Eggplant 2. Sauce 3. Parmigiana 4. Mozzarella. Continue until it’s all used up. Top layer should be cheese as well as a few basil leaves covered by a bit of cheese. Heat for 30-40 minutes until starting to bubble on top. Mangia!