Since I moved to Sardinia, one of my biggest worries is that I can’t cook as well an Italian or that people think I can’t cook well because I’m English.
At home we mainly eat Italian meals and I don’t think I’m a terrible cook (even if I do say so myself).
My favourite Italian meal is Melanzane alla Parmigiana, it’s something I nearly always cook if we have guests. And I’m always complimented for it! The great thing about it is that it tastes so much better prepared in advance. I definitely would not recommend making this on the day, apart from the fact that you need quite a bit of time but the flavours just infuse into the aubergines if you let it stand for a good 24hrs.
There are a few variations, the aubergines can be dipped in breadcrumbs or flour or left plain before cooking. I find in breadcrumbs it becomes too heavy and plain doesn’t hold together as well.
As I’m coeliac I dip the sliced aubergines in flour, breadcrumbs don’t hold well, I have had good results with Schär and Glutafin products.
The key to success though is definitely going to be your tomato sauce. I’ve seen lot’s of people add carrot and celery but for me the carrot makes it too sweet, I like adding celery but I don’t want a very lumpy sauce nor do I want to puree it down so I just use onion, garlic, white wine, salt, pepper and basil. The most important thing I’ve learnt about Italian cooking is getting the onion perfect. They should be cooked on a low heat in olive oil until they become transparent, if some pieces are still white they’re not cooked, add crushed garlic, as soon as it’s cooked throw your wine in, reduce, then add chopped tomatoes (add the same amount of water), don’t use cheap tinned tomatoes, they’re full of unripe hard bits. I add my seasoning and torn up basil and allow to simmer for about an hour adding water when necessary. It should be fairly thick but not too dry.
After dipping the aubergines in flour you can either brush with oil and cook in the oven or fry. I prefer to fry (only because I tend to get distracted and burn them in the oven!).
As for cheese this is a personal choice, I use pasta filata (a stretched-curd cheese) which isn’t too strong and melts well, you could use a pizza mozzarella (bags of mozzarella are too wet) in the uk a mild cheddar would also be fine.
You then layer the aubergines, cheese and sauce, I line my dish with sauce, then aubergine-sauce-cheese and repeat. On the final layer you should replace the cheese you’ve been using for a generous helping of Parmesan. Bake in the oven for roughly 40 mins, you may want to cover with foil and then remove and allow the cheese to turn golden brown in the last 15 minutes.
Serve with fresh bread and a great red wine!!!