Along with socca, ratatouille, and crepes, this southern Italian(Campania) specialty was one of those foods I discovered in a local restaurant and fell in love with soon after we came to live in France.
So I was thrilled the day I found a lovely cookbook in the English bookshop in Valbonne some years ago, called “The Best of Mediterranean food”, by Sarah Woodward, which had a recipe for it.
And what an excellent recipe it is too. The results are as satisfying – in some cases, better – as anything I have eaten in many good restaurants here, even with the couple of variations I make (such as substituting dried oregano for fresh).
This dish is a delicious melange of lots of wonderful things, such as melted mozzarella and lots of fresh basil. Indira absolutely adores it and wishes I’d make it a lot more often. But all that cheese does it make quite heavy on the stomach, so though we are all very fond of it I make it only very occasionally.
aubergines 750 gms
olive oil 6-7 tbsp (for grilling the aubergine)
2 small onions, chopped fine
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine
canned tomatoes 600 gms
dried oregano 1 tsp or a little more
salt and black pepper to taste
Mozzarella 200 gms( drained weight), sliced quite thin
Basil leaves (a large-ish bunch)
freshly grated Parmesan 100-150 gms
Wash the basil leaves and keep them on a kitchen towel to dry.
In a saucepan, saute the onions and the garlic on a low heat in 2-3 tbsp of olive oil till they are quite soft. Now add the tomatoes, the oregano, the salt and the pepper, then turn up the heat and cook the sauce till it is quite thick. This will take about 15-20 minutes.
Slice the aubergines in to 1 cm thick pieces (lengthwise or across). Spread these on to a large surface, sprinkle with sea salt, and press down with a heavy weight. After 30 minutes or so, this will have drawn out a lot of the juice (which often has a bitter-ish taste) of the aubergine. Mop this up with kitchen towels.
The aubergine slices can now either be deep-fried (this is the traditional way) till they are a nice golden brown color and quite soft, or grilled -after brushing slightly with olive oil- at 280-300degreesC in a pre-heated grill. This will take around 10 minutes. The aubergines will need to be turned over once, half way, and will need a little bit of oil brushed on to the other side as well.
I grill rather than deep-fry the aubergines because the former method uses less oil but the taste of this dish definitely gains something with the latter…
Set the oven now to to heat to 180degreesC. In a large ovenproof dish, cover the base with half of the tomato sauce, then layer it with some of the aubergine slices, then 3/4ths of the mozzarella slices on top of that, followed by half the Parmesan. Spread the basil leaves next, then the rest of the aubergine slices, followed by the remaining mozzarella, the sauce, and the rest of the Parmesan.
Bake for 30 minutes near the bottom of the oven, and serve the dish as soon as it come out of the oven, or the mozzarella will go tough and stringy.
There is LOADS of taste and flavor here; all it needs to make this a complete meal is some green salad and a small portion of bread to soak up all the juices.