When we were in Edinburgh during our European travels, aside from meeting Dolly the sheep and having to purchase winter jackets in August, we started a night out at an Italian restaurant called Nonna’s. A few hours and one too many glasses of wine later we rolled ourselves back out after what was one of the most amazing meals I have had. It started with an indulgent, gooey, tomatoey melanzane ‘aubergine’ alla parmigiana, followed by pumpkin stuffed ravioli in a blue cheese sauce which currently stands as my all time favourite pasta dish (sorry prego). Then we had our arms twisted into ordering dessert (read: the waiter asked if we would like to see the menu) and showing an abundance of self-restraint split a gorgeous chocolate fudge torte, which left me completely satisfied, unable to move and secretly vowing to recreate the nights pleasures.
So this week the fridge has been filled with pert purple aubergines. I tried a Jamie Oliver recipe first, and it was good but I followed the recipe (wait, I what?) which called for onions, and, well … I just don’t like them. I cook with them and agree they add flavour to dishes but I don’t like to be able to distinctively pick out their taste and I could. Also, as much as I love Jamie Oliver, it just wasn’t as good as Nonna’s.
So after a little tweaking and tinkering, here is my version that we had with dinner last night. It is perfect as an entrée or a side, but beware it might turn out to be the star of the show. Now for the pasta … hmm may have to wait for a kitchen where I don’t have to sift cocoa through a tea strainer.
And because no post is complete without chocolate, here is the serious eye candy we nibbled on for dessert.
3 large Firm Aubergines
1 Clove of Garlic, grated
1 Tsp Fresh oregano leaves, plus extra for the top.
1 Kg Fresh Ripe Tomatoes
2 tsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Sea Salt
Ground Pepper to season
1 Large Handful Of Fresh Basil, plus extra for garnishing
4 large Handfuls Of Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Handfuls of homemade Breadcrumbs
150 g Ball Of Buffalo Mozzarella
Heat a large pot of water until boiling, add tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, grate the parmesan. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices then quarter.
Add tomatoes to boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, peel, de-seed and cut into small cubes. In a hot pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil, add the garlic and oregano and cook until lightly browned. Add tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and sugar and cook for about 30 minutes over low heat. The sauce should be thick, let it reduce if necessary. Add balsamic vinegar and a grind or two of pepper, adjust seasonings as necessary. Stir in the chopped basil.
While tomato sauce is cooking, cut the aubergines into 5-10 mm thick slices. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a girdle pan to a high temp, once hot grill the aubergines on both sides until lightly charred and slightly floppy (but not mushy!). Alternatively you can coat them in flour and fry, but I have yet to try this method.
In an ovenproof dish 25cm by 12-15 cm put in a small layer of tomato sauce, then a good scattering of Parmesan, followed by a single layer of aubergines and a few slices of mozzarella . Repeat these layers of sauce, cheese and aubergine finishing with a little sauce and the last of the mozzarella. To top, toss the remaining parmesan and oregano with the breadcrumbs in a little oil. Scatter on top.
Cook the dish at 190C for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden brown.
These can also be made in ramekins for cute individual starters or sides (reduce cooking time to 15-20 min). Or the aubergines can be stacked rather than layered in the large dish so each person is served an aubergine parmigiana tower.
Let me know your thoughts