Every self-respecting Sicilian knows how to recognise its unmistakable smell even before looking at it, freshly baked, at the centre of the table in the kitchen. And how do you describe the explosion of flavours after sinking your fork into the crunchy parmesan crust to reach the layers of fried aubergines, generously seasoned with tomato sauce, mozzarella or caciocavallo? Today, you're eating Parmigiana! A special dish, whether as an appetiser or a side dish. Whether hot, warm and even cold (to taste the flavours that have developed in the meantime), Parmigiana is one of the most beloved dishes in the Sicilian tradition, a recipe that every family in the south guards and passes down from generation to generation.
If you wanted to know more about its history, you'd be at the centre of the most fierce culinary arguments in our country: its origin is in fact disputed between Sicily, Naples and the city of Parma.
However, the theory as to how aubergines arrived in Sicily in the fifteenth century, thanks to the Arabs who brought them from India, convinces us that it can be an all Sicilian dish. Moreover, according to another hypothesis, the term Parmesan derives from the Sicilian word "Parmiciana", from the set of wooden strips that, superimposed one on top of the other, form Persian windows, reminding us specifically of the aubergine's layered arrangement and the ingredient that make up this tasty dish.
Finally, to remove any doubt about the possible Northern Italian origins, the Accademia della Crusca declared that there couldn't be any connection between Parmesan cheese and our Parmigiana: in fact, the original, historical recipe calls for the use of Sicilian pecorino.
Besides its origins, this is a dish that is sought out in every region of Italy and that can be cooked in any season, thanks to the availability of its main ingredient, which is easily grown in a greenhouse.
We offer you the classic recipe that should be flavoured with basil leaves and that can be enriched, in its tastiest variant, with the addition of hard-boiled eggs.
Wash and dry the aubergines. Then, remove the stem with a knife and slice lengthwise to get slices that are 4–5 mm thick. Arrange the slices inside a colander and sprinkle with a little cooking salt. On top of the aubergines, place a weighted plate, so as to squeeze out the bitter vegetable water. Leave it like this for at least 1 hour. In the meantime, cut the mozzarella into cubes and drain. In a large saucepan, pour in a little extra virgin olive oil, add the chopped onion and let it brown for a couple of minutes . Then, add the tomato sauce and add a little water, seasoning with salt and cooking over a low heat for about 40 minutes. Once cooked, don’t forget to add the basil leaves by tearing them by hand. Rinse the aubergines and dry them with absorbent paper before frying them in plenty of hot peanut oil, soaking the slices one by one. Once golden brown, drain on paper towels. Now, let’s put it together. Cover a 20×30 cm baking dish with some of the sauce, then form the first layer by arranging the slices of aubergine horizontally. Grate a little black pepper, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese then add the mozzarella cubes, distributing them evenly. Finally, pour in some more tomato sauce and throw in the fresh basil leaves. Repeat the same process, this time arranging the aubergine slices vertically; repeat this to form the layers, swapping the direction of the aubergine slices each time. On the last layer, pour in the remaining tomato sauce, basil leaves, mozzarella cubes and parmesan cheese. Finally, place in a hot oven at 200° for about 30 minutes. Once ready, let it rest for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy your meal! (recipes.giallozafferano.it)