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Raffa’s Eggplant Parmigiana

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Raffa, whose parents moved from Naples to Torino when she was young, makes hands-down the best eggplant parmigiana (called melanzane alla parmigiana, in Italian.) She uses eggplant from her farm, which are exceptionally sweet and creamy when fried. She slices them into one centimeter-thick rounds and fries them (without salting first) in a vegetable frying oil. Unlike many versions of eggplant parmigiana made in the United States, in Italy they do not bread the eggplant. Once golden, the eggplant is drained on paper towels.

The dish originated in the south of Italy, but Raffa deviates from the traditional preparation in one essential way. According to Raffa, it is customary to use a fully cooked and seasoned tomato sauce, which often has a high content of olive oil in it. This oily sauce, combined with the deep-fried eggplant and melted cheese, usually results in a finished dish that is blanketed with grease. Instead, Raffa uses her own tomatoes, which she cooks for a short time and then passes through a vegetable strainer to remove skin and seeds. She seasons this plain tomato puree (coulis) with sea salt and then uses it to layer with the eggplant and cheese. Her lean yet flavorful sauce cuts down on the greasiness of the dish.

Without Raffa’s eggplant and tomatoes, it may not be possible to ever equal her version, but you can probably come close:

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Slice the eggplant into 1cm-thick rounds. Heat a half inch of frying oil in a pan, and fry the slices in batches, turning once, until golden brown and replenishing the oil if necessary. Drain the slices on paper towels.

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Prepare a light tomato sauce by cooking ripe, seasonal tomatoes until they break down. Then pass them through a strainer or food mill to remove seeds and skins. Season this puree with salt. Or puree good quality, canned whole tomatoes, and season with salt.

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In a baking dish, place one layer of eggplant in the bottom, season with salt, then top with a thin layer of the tomato sauce. Follow with a layer of thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkling of fresh and dried oregano. Repeat until all the eggplant is used. You can optionally grate parmigiano reggiano or grana padano cheese on top of the final slice.

Bake in the oven until bubbling hot.

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