Last Fall, we went to Italy for a one-month food tour. As a part of our trip, we spent 7 days at Organic Tuscany, an all organic cooking school near the town of Certaldo in the region of Tuscany. We spent the week learning traditional Tuscan cooking techniques and recipies from Shilpa, Manuela, Riccardo and Tina . Our favorite and most replicated was the Eggplant Parmesan. It is like none you have ever tasted and we have converted several Eggplant haters with this dish. There is no better way to use up our loads of tomatoes and eggplants than with this dish. We sometimes make it twice a week when we have abundant ingredients. We have started splitting the eggplant in half and substituting our “Paddypan” squash. They are almost undetectable and it is a great way to use them up! Here is their recipe and instructions.
2 large aubergines/eggplant (or substitute 3 medium Paddypan squash or zucchini for one of the eggplant)
1 kg/2 lb ripe tomatoes (or one large can of crushed or whole tomatoes, a jar of italian pasata works even better)
1 sm yellow oninon
1 clove garlic
1 tbs. fresh oregano
200g/7 oz mozzarella, ripped into small pieces
60 g/2 oz parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Sprig of basil, leaves only
Slice the aubergines lengthways into thin slices. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and leave between two tea towels (dish-cloths) for an hour, weighed down with some plates. Any bitter residue should seep out into the cloths. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside. You will be making several such batches, which will take time to grill!
Plunge the tomatoes into a pan of just-boiled water (switch off the heat) and leave for a couple of minutes. You should then be able to remove the skins easily. Chop the tomato into small pieces. Set aside. Chop the onion finely. Heat a medium skillet with a few splashes of olive oil for the sauce. Once the oil is hot, add the peeled garlic clove, sliced in half. Cook the clove of garlic in the oil for a few minutes to get the flavor of the garlic infused in the oil. Remove and discard (or snack on) the cooked clove. The oil will be infused with garlic flavor but no big chunks or burnt garlic to contend with. Add the chopped onion and cook until it is translucent and soft. If using canned tomatoes or pasata, pour the tomatoes into the skillet at this time. If using the fresh ones, add the chopped pieces to the skillet. This will be your sauce. Add the oregano, salt and pepper to taste and let this cook until the flavors marry and it is tasty.
In an ovenproof dish, place alternating layers of aubergine slices, mozzarella, parmesean and tomato sauce. Bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese on the top is golden brown. 5 minutes before the cooking time is finished, sprinkle the torn basil leaves on top.
If you are pressed for time, you can skip step 2. Modern aubergine varieties have little bitterness. If you do skip this step, remember to add salt too the aubergines as you grill them.