I am never sad about the passing of the seasons. As the evenings close in our thoughts turn to richer, warming, comforting food – food like this delectable Italian classic.
I have lot of cook books and magazines, and among them are 61 different recipes for Aubergine Parmigiana. I haven’t read through all of them, but I have read enough of them to realise that the key to a great Parmigiana is simplicity. There’s no room here for chilli flakes, black garlic or other flavour-enhancing staples – the freshest, firmest aubergines and the best tinned tomatoes you can afford are all you need.
RECIPE serves 4
2 large, firm aubergines (or 3 medium)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
1 heaped tsp dried oregano
3x 400g tins of plum tomatoes (Mutti San Marzano or Cirio are my choices)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
Parmesan, finely grated as required
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella
1 thick slice of slightly stale wholemeal bread
a bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Drizzle olive oil generously in to a large saucepan, coating the base. Heat over a medium flame and gently fry the onions with the oregano until softened and just starting to colour – this will take ten minutes or so. Add the garlic and fry for another minute before adding the tinned tomatoes.
Bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to bubble and reduce for around 30 minutes until thick and unctuous. Remove from the heat. season, add the vinegar and stir, then add the torn basil and stir through. Set aside for now.
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/gas 5.
Remove the stalks and slice the aubergines along their length into slices about as thick as the end of your little finger. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with a little olive oil and place under a hot grill for ten minutes per side until soft and golden. Using a little oil seals in moisture and ensures that the aubergine doesn’t dry out as it cooks. Depending on the size of your grill you may need to do this in batches.
Roughly tear the bread, and roughly chop the parsley. Put the bread and parsley into a food processor and pulse until the bread is crumbed and the parsley finely chopped.
In a casserole or other large ovenproof dish with a lid, start to layer up the elements. Ladle enough tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish to completely cover the base, then scatter a thin layer of grated Parmesan over it, followed by a layer of grilled aubergine. Repeat: sauce, Parmesan, aubergine, sauce, Parmesan, aubergine. Finish with a layer of sauce, tear the mozzarella ball and dot it over the top, then scatter the breadcrumbs and parsley over that. Finish with a final thin layer of Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Put the lid on and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the casserole and put it back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.
When golden and crusty on the top, remove from the oven and leave to ‘rest’, uncovered, for ten minutes before serving. This resting time makes all the difference.
Serve alongside a simple green salad dressed with the juice of a lemon and its finely grated zest.