Last month we were talking favourite veggie dishes and I shared my Cauliflower Cheese and Roman Rosemary Potato recipes with you. I hadn’t yet posted the third veggie dish I mentioned. So here it is, such a well known and well loved dish all around the world.
To be honest, it’s actually my near-miss Suocera’s recipe. I’m translating it from Italian into English from my little duck journal. A beautiful notebook I bought in Florence many moons ago. I quickly filled it with best loved recipes during my first year in Italy. I‘d often drool over the stationery shop windows almost as much as ‘La Pasticceria’.
‘La Suocera’ always had me in fits of laughter. Not the lady, she scared the .... out of me. But the word itself. So ominous and sharp in a language full of melodic softness. Just like the $2.50 eggplants at the Farmers Markets on Saturday. Round, plump and glossy. One almost knows it means ‘mother-in-law’, even before you understand a full sentence of Italian.
My near-miss ‘Suocera’ (I’ll save that story for the book!) was kinder and more nurturing than her title. And an exceptional cook, like her Mamma and Nonna before her. However, Australia was a country seemingly too far away for comfort and comprehension. I’m convinced that’s why our nation of immigrants embraces all cuisines with such vigor. Food takes us closer to our roots. Nowhere is off limits or too far away when we’re cooking...... so bring on the recipe already! And have a great start to the week MFK friends.
Ingredients (serves 6)
olive oil cooking spray ❤ 2 large eggplants or 3 medium sized ❤ 700gram jar of tomato Passata ❤ 1 onion, finely chopped ❤ small tub of tomato paste ❤ 1 handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped ❤ 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised ❤ 140 grams parmesan cheese, freshly grated ❤ 240 grams mozzarella, sliced ❤ 6 tablespoons olive oil ❤ 1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs ❤ plenty of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper ❤ rocket leaves to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F). Lightly grease a 5-6cm deep medium sized baking dish with butter or oil.
Cut eggplant into even 1cm wide slices and place in a colander. Sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt evenly over the slices and allow to sit over a larger bowl for about 30 minutes to release any bitter juices. The bowl will catch brown liquid underneath. If time poor , just skip this step as it’s not essential. Simply salt the eggplant slices well during frying.
If you prefer a healthier option, then spray the eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides and grill them for 2 minutes on each side or until tender and charred.
To make the tomato sauce, fry off chopped onion and garlic in olive oil. Once translucent and flavours released, add the jar of Passata and tomato paste to the pot. Cook and stir as required for at least 10 minutes.
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the greased baking dish. Place ¼ of the eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle ¼ of the grated parmesan and chopped basil on top of the eggplant. Now add a layer of sliced mozzarella. Repeat the layering process until you finish up all your ingredients with a fourth layer on top of parmesan covered eggplant and some mozzarella. Top with fine breadcrumbs. Please excuse the one photographed - it's last nights dinner, a healthier version without the mozzarella layers.
Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes until bubbling and golden and you can’t withstand that fragrant cooking any longer. Rest and cool for as long as you can resist and serve. Tastes even better the next day and also terrific sliced and served cold with rocket or spinach salad. Some say it’s a marvelous midnight snack and potent pick-me-up directly from the fridge. I’d have to agree on that. What's your favourite veggie dish?