There are some recipes that are a true labour of love and this outstanding aubergine parmigiana will end up taking you a good part of a whole day to prepare (or a lot of day ahead prep) but WOW the end result is so, so special that you won't mind any extra minute spent on it.
On paper this veggie main doesn't exactly scream culinary revelation. Sliced aubergine, cheese and tomato sauce, layered and baked in the oven not exactly anything out of the ordinary but here every step in making it elevates the final result into something very special.
The tomato sauce is slow cooked in the oven for 2 hours before it gets blended to fuse all the flavours that have simmered together to create a sauce that is a world a way from one out of a jar.
The sliced aubergines first get salted and weighed down for a good hour to extract excess water, giving the final baked aubergine an almost custardy texture, before being coated in a panko, parmesan crust and pan fried in batches for extra crispiness.
The aubergine, homemade tomato sauce and a shredded mozzarella and herb mix then get layered and baked in the oven for a good hour before fresh slices of mozzarella get added to the top for the most wonderful oozy finish.
This is the opposite of fast food but it is food for the soul and hands down the best aubergine dish that has ever crossed my lips.
Make the time investment for this aubergine parmigiana, you will NOT regret it.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 head of garlic, cloves crushed
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets
- ½ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
- 1 Tbsp. tomato puree
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes
- ¼ cup torn basil leaves
- ½ tsp. dried oregano
AUBEGINE AND ASSEMBLY
- 4 medium aubergines, sliced
- 3 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs - I get men at Waitrose)
- 1½ tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ cups finely grated Parmesan, divided
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs, beaten to blend
- 1⅓ cups olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped basil and parsley, plus basil leaves for serving
- 180g grated mozzarella
- 220g fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 180 celsius.
- Heat oil in a large heavy ovenproof pot over medium.
- Cook garlic, stirring often, until golden, about 4 minutes.
- Add onion, anchovies, and chilli flakes and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in tomato puree and cook, stirring often, until slightly darkened, about 2 minutes.
- Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, breaking up with your hands, and their juices; add basil and oregano and stir to combine.
- Swirl 1½ cups water into one tomato can, then the other, to rinse, and add to pot; season with salt.
- Transfer pot to oven; roast sauce, stirring halfway through, until thick and tomatoes are browned on top and around edges of pot, 2–2½ hours.
- Let sauce cool slightly.
- Blend in a food processor until mostly smooth.
- Taste and season with salt.
- Do Ahead: Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
AUBERGINE & ASSEMBLY
- Lightly season aubergine slices all over with salt; place in a single layer on several layers of paper towels inside a rimmed baking tray.
- Top with another layer of paper towels and more slices; repeat as needed.
- Top with a final layer of paper towels, then another rimmed baking tray; weigh down with a heavy pot or a few metal cans.
- Let aubergine sit until it has released excess liquid, 45–60 minutes.
- This step gives the aubergine a creamy texture when baked.
- Meanwhile, pulse panko, oregano, pepper, and ¾ cup Parmesan in a food processor until very finely ground.
- Transfer to a shallow bowl.
- Preheat oven to 200 celsius.
- Place flour in another shallow bowl and eggs in a third shallow bowl.
- Working one at a time, dredge eggplant slices in flour, then dip in egg, allowing excess to drip off.
- Coat in breadcrumbs, packing all around, then shaking off excess.
- Place on wire racks.
- Heat ⅔ cup oil in a large frying pan over medium-high.
- Cook as many aubergine slices as will comfortably fit in pan, turning once, until deep golden, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer to paper towels and immediately press with more paper towel to absorb oil.
- Working in batches, repeat with remaining slices, adding remaining ⅔ cup oil and wiping out skillet as needed.
- Let cool.
- Taste and season with more salt if needed.
- Toss chopped herbs, grated mozzarella, and remaining ¾ cup Parmesan in a medium bowl.
- Spread 1 cup sauce over the bottom of a 13x9" baking tray; top with a layer of aubergine slices (trim as needed).
- Drizzle 1 cup sauce over and sprinkle with one-third of cheese mixture.
- Add another layer of aubergine, followed by 1 cup sauce and half of remaining cheese mixture.
- Repeat layers with remaining slices, sauce, and cheese mixture.
- Cover with foil and bake on a rimmed baking sheet until eggplant is custardy, 45–60 minutes.
- Remove from oven and arrange fresh mozzarella over eggplant.
- Increase oven temperature to 220 celsius and bake, uncovered, until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, 15–20 minutes longer.
- Let rest 30 minutes.
- Top with basil leaves just before slicing.