“Never eat more than you can lift.”
~ Miss Piggy ~
Eggplant = aubergine = brinjal = melanzane
Let’s face it – eggplant is a bit of a weird vegetable. I won’t go on about its many different names, or that it has nothing to do with an egg. What I will go on about, however, is how fantastic it is. They are tasty if cooked correctly and extremely versatile. They qualify as a “free vegetable” as well! If you have ever been on a diet, you will know that all vegetables are not created equal. Starchy veggies like corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots should be eaten in smaller portions, while leafy greens and veggies with fewer carbs and more water can (and should be) eaten in larger portions. And eggplant is one of those free veggies. Unless you are eating fried battered eggplant, you can probably eat as much of it as you like! Eggplant Parmigiana is no exception.
The cheesier, the better!
I probably buy about 6 – 8 eggplants a week. Yes, we really love the stuff! I cut them in blocks, strips or chunks and add them to stir-fries. Larger chunks are perfect to add to oven bakes with chicken pieces, a starchy vegetable and some seasoning. And I love them when my friend Paul makes his delicious beer batter and deep-fries them – not to be recommended while trying to eat healthily! So, of course, I love the traditional Sicilian dish of Melanzane alla Parmigiana or Parmigiana di Melanzane – a baked dish with eggplant, tomato sauce and cheese. The dish gets its name from the Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese that also gives it a very distinctive taste. I would love to use Parmesan every time I make this, but it is quite expensive and I have often used generic hard cheese made from cow’s milk.
No need to get salty…
I do know why many people do not enjoy cooking eggplant. Peeling and salting? I never do! Traditionally eggplant is salted for 30 minutes to an hour to draw out some of the moisture before cooking. This reduces the bitter taste that eggplant occasionally has and prevents it from getting soggy while cooking. I rarely worry about salting eggplant. Steaming it for a few minutes in the microwave before cooking has the same effect. Cut the eggplant as desired (halved lengthwise, sliced or cubed) and microwave it for about 4 minutes on high. The eggplant is basically pre-cooked and therefore doesn’t need as much time in the oven or pan and has a lovely silky texture. Making a batch of home-made tomato sauce over the weekend and keeping it in the fridge or freezer cuts down on prep time even further!
- 3 large eggplants, sliced thinly lengthwise
- 30 ml olive oil
- 1 batch home-made tomato sauce (or use 3 cups of passata sauce)
- 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese (or another melting cheese like cheddar)
- Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- Prepare eggplant by slicing it and either microwaving for 4 minutes or salting the slices for 30 minutes - 1 hour.
- Pat the slices dry with kitchen paper and place on a greased baking tray.
- Season with salt and olive oil and bake at 160°C for approximately 30 minutes or until tender and slightly browned.
- Warm up the home-made tomato sauce and mix the cheeses.
- Once the eggplant is cooked, spread some tomato sauce in the bottom of a greased 20 x 20 cm ovenproof dish.
- Add a layer of eggplant and sprinkle with cheese.
- Continue with layers of tomato sauce, eggplant and cheese, ending with a final layer of cheese.
- Bake at 160°C for 20 - 25 minutes and serve.
- Traditionally the eggplant is floured and shallow fried. I have found this time consuming and the eggplant does absorb a lot of oil. Fried eggplant gives the whole dish a richer taste, but oven-baked eggplant is also tasty and is a bit healthier.
- As mentioned before I have used generic hard cow's milk cheese instead of Parmesan to cut down on cost.