Parmigiana di melanzane

Blogging, an activity that usually comes to me quite easily, has been difficult lately. For starters, updating a blog twice a week takes a lot of work - the cooking, the photographing, the writing - and lately I struggle to find not only the time but mostly the energy for it. You see, while I'm still working at the same place I've been working the past two years, I was moved to a new division/team a few months ago (not my choice) with new colleagues and completely different type of work, in a very different environment than before. I'll spare you the particulars and simply say that I don't like my new job -- at all -- and miss my old job terribly. I miss my old colleagues (some of my very favorite people) who I don't see as half much as before, I miss the feeling of being delighted to come to work, I miss my old office, my calm, ever-so-positive office mate, and the familiarity of the work. Above all, I miss the lack of stress and anxiety and pressure that is now part of my daily routine. Big sigh.

If this all seems a bit dramatic, I apologize -- I didn't intend for this post to turn in to a diary entry, and you can probably tell that I'm writing this at 10pm after a very long day. I know I'm not the first or the last person to have a less than ideal work situation, and despite my current, Eeyore-like gloom, I have enough clarity to see the positives. This job isn't permanent; in the long run it will fall under the category of "learning experience;" it will push me to figure out what the next step is, career-wise, scary as that is; it will teach me to have a tougher skin. 

(In the short term though? I'm exhausted and I miss where I was working before, in a stamp-my-feet like a frustrated 5 year old kind of way). 

In the meantime, cooking and baking is, as it always has been, a constant for me, the calm in the storm so to speak, and that brings me to this parmigiana di melanzane, which I methodically prepped and assembled this weekend -- calming work -- and which served me well in leftover form after a long Monday, in all its cheese-filled comfort food splendor. This here version is fantastic, the eggplant thinly sliced and tender and golden brown and not at all greasy, tucked in between layers of tomato sauce, gooey mild mozzarella and sharp Parmesan, with bits of basil here to brighten things up. This dish is a good transition between Summer and Fall, too -- full of tomatoes and basil and eggplant, but still cozy and filling and baked in the oven, the kind of food that softens the edges of a bad day.

A couple of notes: My research showed me that there are lots of different ways to make parmigiana di melanzane; certain recipes ask you to dip the eggplant in flour, or flour and egg, while others leave the eggplant as is; some recipes call for fiordilatte or provolone or caciocavallo instead of mozzarella; for the sauce, some recipes call for crushed tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes, and leave out the onion, or include garlic; some versions of this dish are made even more substantial with the addition of prosciutto or hard boiled eggs. I took what I liked best and came up with this version, but feel free to use mine as a suggestion and play around with it. If you want really uniform slices of eggplant, feel free to cut it with a mandolin, but I cut mine by hand. Don't worry about all the pieces being the same, as you'll find yourself constructing the layers in a kind of puzzle way where you put what piece fits best. Finally, I wouldn't recommend trying to use mozzarella di bufala here as it has too much moisture -- cows milk mozzarella is best. If you use fiordilatte, which has a bit more moisture, make sure you drain it well first and then pat it dry.

Looking for other recipes with eggplant? I've got this Pasta con pesce spada e melanzane, these Polpette di melanzane, and this Rigatoni alle melanzane

MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA

Ingredients:
2 pounds (1 kilo) eggplant (about 3 eggplants)
1000 grams (1 kilo, one and a half cans of tomatoes from two 28 oz cans) peeled whole tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a small yellow onion, chopped
Nearly a pound (400 grams) mozzarella cheese, cut in to cubes 
1 1/3 cups (100 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
A handful of basil, torn into pieces

Oil for frying
Salt, as needed

Directions:
Cut the leafy tops off the eggplant and discard. Peel the eggplant using a sharp knife. Cut the lengthwise eggplant in to uniformly thin slices, about 2 or 3 millimeters thick. Lay the eggplant out on some paper towels, sprinkle all the pieces with a bit of salt, and set aside for about half an hour.
In the half hour while the eggplants are hanging out, prepare the tomato sauce for the dish. Put a bit of olive oil in a large pot and saute the chopped onion until soft. Add the tomatoes to the pot, and let the sauce cook, covered, stirring occasionally on low heat for about half an hour.

Once your sauce is started, get back to your eggplant. Wipe the water that has been drawn out of the eggplant by the salt with more paper towels. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan with high sides -- it should be enough vegetable oil to cover the eggplant fully. When the oil is hot (170 degrees Celsius if you have a thermometer), fry the eggplant a couple of slices at a time until lightly browned and softened, about 3-4 minutes. Let the eggplant drain on a paper towel lined plate or a a plate lined with wax paper. Repeat until all the eggplant is fried. This might take about 30-40 minutes as you don't want to fry too many slices at a time -- I'd say max 4 slices. (But this is good for clearing the head).

Time to assemble! Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) Take your baking pan and start with a thin layer of tomato sauce at the bottom. Next, top the sauce with a layer of fried eggplant, then another layer of sauce, then Parmesan and some of the mozzarella and then basil. Repeat again: eggplant, sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, basil and continue this way until you've got your last few slices of eggplant for the last layer. The last layer should be eggplant and Parmesan. You may not use all the Parmesan, and if this is the case, keep it and use it for serving.

Bake the parmigiana di melanzane in your preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the Parmesan on the top is lightly browned. If you have a broiler (or grill, for the Brits) feel free to broil the parmigiana di melanzane on the last 5 minutes of cooking to get a nice Parmesan crust. Let cool a bit before serving. Serves 4-6.





















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