This is probably Dr Weasel’s favourite supper dish. Parmigiana di melanzane is a layered, baked dish of aubergines (eggplants for all the Americans out there), rich tomato sauce, parmesan and mozzarella. It’s a wonderfully savoury meal to brighten up an autumn evening.
This tomato sauce, simmered for ages until thick and unctuous, is unbelievably good – it’s also very simple, containing very few ingredients. It freezes well, so if you can face seeding and peeling even more tomatoes, make some extra and save it for the sort of snowy day when you need to eat something red. Try it with pasta, or over meatballs.
To serve four with some left over for lunch you’ll need:
2kg ripe tomatoes
4 medium aubergines
3 large onions
4 cloves of garlic
1 handful fresh basil
1 handful fresh oregano
1 mild red chilli
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large knob butter, plus extra to taste
250 g mozzarella
Salt and pepper
Olive oil to fry
Begin by peeling and seeding the tomatoes. (Cut a shallow cross at the bottom of the tomatoes and pour over boiling water. Fish the tomatoes straight out of the water, which will have loosened their skin, and peel it off. Cut open and discard the seeds.) Cut into small dice.
Dice the onions and chop the garlic finely, and fry in a large knob of butter until translucent and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and finely chopped chilli to the saucepan and stir to combine everything. Bring to a very low simmer, and reduce (this will take more than an hour) to half its original volume or a little less. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a small pan and stir it into the sauce. Add the oregano and season with salt and pepper. Taste to check whether you need more salt or sugar. Add another knob of butter for a more mellow flavour if you like. Set the finished sauce aside.
While the sauce is reducing, prepare the aubergine. Slice it into rounds about 1 cm thick (salt to remove the juices if you like; with modern aubergines the bitter juices have been bred out, and you’ll probably find you don’t need to salt at all) and fry each round in very hot olive oil (the aubergine slices are like little sponges, so you’ll need plenty), until brown on each side. Drain on kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper.
Set out a layer of aubergine slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Place some basil leaves on top. Pour over a layer of sauce, layer over some mozzarella, then more aubergine, more basil, more sauce and so on. When you’ve used everything up, sprinkle over the parmesan and bake for 45 minutes at 180° C, until brown on top. Scatter over some fresh basil.
Serve with crusty bread to mop up the rich juices.