Melanzane alla Parmigiana
This is the finest, and possibly the simplest recipe for this dish I have found. The hint of cinnamon in the sauce plays off the nuttiness of the Parmesan magnificently, and the whole is grounded, of course, in the eggplant. So fundamental is eggplant as a fruit that it is a kind of base element. ‘Eg’ in the periodic table of fruits and vegetables.
The name ‘eggplant’ derives from the round, white variety of the fruit, and it is certainly more fun to say than ‘aubergine’. Alan Davidson tells us that the word ‘melanzane’ derives from the Latin mala insana – ‘apple of madness’. Perhaps appropriate, as this recipe is madly delicious. And the eggplant is a member of the Nightshade family. Serve it with good, crusty bread and a simple salad. We had a very smooth red from the Marca Trevigiana that gave the whole ensemble a delightful velvety character.
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 X 400g tins chopped tomatoes (a quality brand, please)
1 cinnamon stick
1 small bunch of basil, julienned
4 medium eggplants/aubergines/apples of madness
3 balls of mozzarella, sliced
The apples of madness should be grilled or broiled for this. Slice them lengthwise about a finger-width thick and brush them with oil. Grill them until they are completely tender. Some charring is desirable.
While they are grilling, heat the oven to 180C.
For the sauce, heat about 2T of olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic until it is lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and cinnamon (standing back, as the hot oil and the tomatoes tend to react energetically) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the basil.
Remove the cinnamon stick and spoon some of the sauce into your largest ovenproof dish. Layer up the eggplant slices, mozzarella, and sauce as you would a lasagne. Cover completely with sauce, and cover with a generous grating of Parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes.