We have written before about the glorious ‘Melanzane alla parmigiana’ We first came across it in Italy in the summer of 2017 when travelling through the Dolomites in Northern Italy. Taste wise it was a plant based dish that absolutely took my breath away ……….. or so my memory tells me! I went back to the article we wrote about this in early 2018 and our first attempts to recreate the dish and you can find that here (Aubergine Parmigiana). Whilst we were very pleased with this first attempts we said at the time ‘.…… the dish, it still doesn’t quite match my holiday memory of that first mouthful in the Dolomites. When it does we will post the next instalment’. Well I think we are in a position when it is worth offering that ‘next instalment’ and so here it is!
What is it? It is probably the best tasting plant based meal I have ever eaten (speaking as an obligate carnivore) – and absolute truly – you don’t miss the meat! There are umami flavours in their myriads. There is nothing missing – it is just a coincidence that there is no meat!!
The recipe we are currently using is very similar to that 2017 first try – we have been round the recipe books and the final dish is dependent on how you cook it not really the basic recipe itself! So lets talk about how we are cooking the dish.
Firstly, we have come to the conclusion that the aubergines are best cooked in a cast iron skillet with a moderate amount of good olive oil at around 180C direct. No matter how much you use, the aubergines will always accept more – so it is up to you how much you give way to their greed! With moderate portions – you can afford to be generous!! The aubergines are cut not along the fruit but across it to produce circles of around 7mm thick. (If you prefer your dish to ‘slice’ and the slices to remain as a single piece – then cut the aubergines lengthways and build each layer in alternate directions – but we have ended up favouring a less firm finish). Once cooked these were put to one side.
Once the aubergines had been cooked we used the same skillet to cook the sauce but the BGE was set up for indirect cooking by adding the platesetter. First a finely chopped onion was softened with a little oil until it just became translucent – then the 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced, were added and cooked for a few more minutes. Then 2 cans of chopped tomatoes were added (these seem to work better than fresh tomatoes – in the UK anyway) and some chopped fresh herbs.
This was left to cook at around 160-180C for 20 minutes or more until it began to look a little more dry. (You need to lose that watery ‘tinned tomato’ look).
From this point on it really becomes a matter of ‘assembly”
We have been making our Melanzane alla parmigiana in one of our Tefal Ingenio pans and it works really well – though ideally something slightly deeper would be even better! Put in the smallest amount of tomato sauce you can to cover the bottom of the pan then add a layer of the aubergine, and repeat this tomato sauce/aubergine combination until you are just less than halfway up the dish. At his stage sprinkle the tomato sauce with some parmesan cheese and add around half of the mozzarella together with some basil leaves (I have taken to sprinkling just a little parmesan on each of the tomato layers but I don’t think that is traditional!). Repeat until all the aubergines are used. Finish off with a layer of tomato sauce topped off with further basil leaves, parmesan and mozzarella (and ricotta if you are using it too – this is not traditional). Put the dish back in the BGE and cook for a further 30+ minutes then ‘turn off the BGE’ and let it cool.
This is one of those dishes that tastes great on the day – but even better the day after! We have taken to eating it on the second day, and although we could use the BGE to bring it back to temperature we have taken to doing this in a domestic oven at around 150C for around 30 minutes. At which point turning on the grill produces the most lovely crispy and glorious topping.
This is a dish best served warm rather than hot so don’t rush to serve it. All you need is to plate it up with a green salad.
We think we have now got to the essence of this dish – ours probably has just a slightly high proportion of the tomato sauce than the original one we had in the Dolomites.
It is probably also just a little more fluid in consistency. It does however contain all the essence of that first experience of that ‘Timballo di Melanzane alla Veneta’. Made in that Italian way – with lots of love! It is a real thing of beauty.
………………… do give it a go!
Roasted aubergine baked in a tomato sauce with baked Italian cheeses
- 2 Aubergines, sliced into 1/2cm-thick slices - I prefer circles as easier to arrange
- 1 Onion, finely chopped
- 3 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 Tins chopped tomatoes (400g)
- 2 x 125g Mozzarella balls, sliced In the last one we also added a little ricotta on the top as we had some - it worked well)
- Basil or other herbs that you can lay your hands on
- Olive oil
- Parmesan (or veggie alternative) or other Italian hard cheese 75g, finely grated
- Step 1 Set up the BGE to around 180C. Direct roast Aubergine slices in a pan or in the cast iron skillet, till they take on colour and are a little ‘crisper’ turn a couple of times – need to do in batches
- Step 2 Then olive oil in same skillet and cook the onion and garlic for 10 minutes until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes, season, and simmer for 20 minutes
- Step 3 In a baking dish starting with the sauce, layer up the aubergine and sauce, half-way, a layer of half of the mozzarella, basil, and parmesan. Layer up the remaining aubergine and sauce, and finish with a final layer of mozzarella, basil and parmesan (and or ricotta if using).
- Step 4 Put back in the BGE and cook for a further 30+ minutes then ‘turn off the BGE’
- Step 5 30 mins before you want to serve – re warm in a domestic oven and pop under the grill for a couple of mins to give a really great top!!.
- Step 6 Serve with a salad.