Eggplant parmigiana is a classic Italian dish my Sicilian grandmother used to regularly make for my father (because apparently, no-one else made it just right). Regions of Italy such as Parma, Campania and Sicily all claim parmigiana as their own. In truth, the origins of this dish are decisively uncertain– either way, it is now a well-known classic Italian dish with regional variations.
This is not a slap-dash quick meal. As with many traditional European dishes, flavour is built from time spent cooking. I remember we had to ‘put the order in’ a couple of days ahead when we wanted Nana to make this for us.
Here, I’ve added in fresh okra as a modern twist. Okra and eggplant are fabulous companions, both in the kitchen and in the garden. The flavours complement each other; both are mild yet earthy & blend well with tomato and cheese. Not to mention, having both in season and harvesting at the same time makes it easy.
Here’s how I made it.
First, harvest what you can from the garden & buy the rest if necessary. Here I’m using veggies from my garden- two different varieties of eggplant, both green and purple okra, and various types of tomatoes.
Start by drying out the eggplant and the okra. Top & tail the okra pods, then slice them vertically in half. Lay the halved pods on a plate to air-dry. Cut the eggplant the same way in preparation for salting.
Eggplant is surprisingly moist, so for this recipe I salted it for an hour to dry it up a bit before cooking. (Some recipes omit this step, but I like to do the traditional salting because it also tenderises the flesh & stops it from absorbing too much oil later on). I laid the eggplant slices on cake-drying racks over the sink, but you could use a colander instead. The longer you leave it, the more moisture will come out. After an hour, pat the slices dry and brush the salt off.
The next step is roasting the vegetables. Line shallow baking trays with baking paper, then lay out the okra & eggplant slices. Give them a light spray of oil on both sides, then bake in a moderate oven until lightly browned- this should take 30 mins or so.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil over a low-moderate heat setting, then add the tomatoes, onion and garlic (btw, if you don’t brown the onion first you’ll end up with an amazing sweet-tasting sauce). Don’t add any salt or pepper, as the eggplant will have absorbed enough salt to season the whole dish. Gently & slowly cook them down until you have a sauce- this should take 1.5-2 hours. Stir continually so that it doesn’t catch. Once you’re happy with the sauce, remove the tomato skins. Remember it is totally fine to use bottled passata (sugo) if you don’t have or don’t want to use fresh tomatoes. It won’t taste as good as fresh-tomato sauce, but it’s much faster to make.
Next, prepare the dish for baking. Start by spreading a thin layer of sauce across the base of the dish, then add a layer of veggies. Layer again with sauce, then sprinkle grated cheese.
Repeat the layering process until all your ingredients have been used.
Eggplant & Okra Parmigiana
- cake cooling rack or colander
- oven tray
- Baking dish
- frying pan
- 1 kg eggplant
- 8 okra
- 1 kg tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 4 tbsp oil
- 4 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup pecorino or romano cheese, grated
- fresh basil optional
- Top & tail the okra, then slice it in half vertically.
- Do the same to the eggplant. Make the slices about 1/4" thick.
- Lay out the okra slices on a plate to air-dry.
- Brush both sides of all the eggplant slices with liberally with salt. Leave them for at least an hour to release moisture.
- Dry off the eggplant slices and remove all visible salt.
- Spray both sides of the okra and eggplant slices with oil, then place them on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper.
- Bake in a moderate oven until lightly roasted. This should take about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a frying pan over low-moderate heat then add the onion and tomatoes. Cook gently and slowly, gradually reducing and increasing the sauce by adding small amounts of water here and there. Keep an eye on it and stir continually so it doesn't catch.
- Once the tomato pulp has separated from the skins, remove the skins from the sauce. Continue cooking the sauce until all the ingredients are well cooked and blended- you want it liquid enough to be a sauce, but not runny and watery. It should take 1.5-2 hours to make the sauce.
- Prepare the meal for baking. Using a deep baking dish, layer the sauce then vegetables then cheeses (and basil, if using) over and over again until all your ingredients have been used.
- Bake on 180C (355F) for 25 minutes.