When I first came to Australia with my parents (1956), eggplants (aubergines/ melanzane in Italian) were non-existent commercially in Adelaide and probably in the rest of Australia. I remember friends moving to Canberra in the 80’s and they had to order eggplants from the Sydney markets.
Like so many vegetables that were unfamiliar in Australia, it took a few seed smugglers some time before eggplants were grown in home gardens, and even more years before they were found in produce markets and green grocers’ shops.
Now of course, there are many types of seeds that have been imported legally into Australia and sold in many Italian produce stores.
There are Asian varieties of eggplants as well as the Mediterranean ones in Australia. Trade and migration has made eggplants a typical Mediterranean plant, but they originated from the south-east Asia and in particular from India and China.
Eggplants come in different shapes and sizes – long, thin, wide, round, small and large and they cam be grown commercially as well as successfully in most home gardens . (The eggplant above is grown in my son’s home garden in Adelaide).
The colour of eggplants range from the traditional dark purple types through to violet, lavender, pink, green and creamy-white varieties. There are also variegated types.
When I think of eggplants, I think of Sicily where the most intense cultivation takes place in Italy.
Sicily has the highest numbers of eggplants in terms of cultivation and production; they are available at all times of the year because they can be grown in serre (greenhouses) in all seasons especially in the Ragusa area, where my father’s relatives are based.
And Sicily is where some of the most famous recipes for Italian eggplant dishes initiated, for example: Eggplant Caponata from Palermo, Pasta alla Norma from Catania and Parmigiana di Melazane (Eggplant Parmigiana) with some slight variations from all over Sicily.
Parmigiana is now one of the best-known and widespread dishes of Italian cuisine but its origin is disputed between the regions of Sicily, Campania and Emilia-Romagna. However I have always believed Parmigiana to be Sicilian. Since I was a young child I have eaten many servings of Parmigiana cooked by family and friends, in homes and in restaurants all over Sicily and I support the theory that it is a Sicilian specialty.
Parmigiana is what I am going to write about in this post.
Recently a friend (and an excellent home cook) prepared Yotem Ottolenghi’s Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmigiana, from the book Flavor. It was a marvellous dinner and I enjoyed eating these vegetarian meatballs very much.
The ingredients for Ottolenghi’s recipe are cubed eggplants, roasted till soft and caramelized, then mashed and mixed with herbs and spices, ricotta, Parmesan, basil, bound with eggs, breadcrumbs and flour. While the mixture rests, a tomato salsa needs to be made, the dumplings are fried and then baked in the tomato salsa.
When I looked at Ottolenghi’s recipe, I was amazed at just how many steps have to be covered compared with the time it would take to cook the traditional Parmigiana. A few days later a friend came to dinner and I made a simple Parmigiana.
I baked the eggplants this time rather than fried them..
Made the tomato salsa.
Proceeded to layer the salsa, eggplants, grated cheese and because the Ottoleghi recipe had ricotta, and because ricotta seems to have become an addition to the traditional Parmigiana recipe all over the web, I also added ricotta between the layers.
What it looked like before I placed it in the oven.
And I presented the Parmigiana with roast peppers and a green salad.
I don’t know how long my version took, but it tasted good.
Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini.
Parmigiana can also be made with fried zucchini. It is worth cooking it.
**** I first wrote a post on my blog in 2009 about how the name of the recipe originated and recipe of a traditional Parmigiana. The recipe is also in my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The background information about Parmigiana is fascinating. The post is worth reading: