Despite the name, which suggests a connection with the northern Italian town of Parma, this dish is typically southern Italian. It’s traditional to Naples and the surrounding countryside, and which is famous for the delicate fresh mozzarella made from buffalo milk, also popular in Calabria and Sicily.
The name may derive from the inclusion of parmesan cheese (from the region around Parma), although various sources suggest that it is a corruption of either the Sicilian word for shutter or the word Persian … we may never know. But I do know that it’s a dish that’s quick, easy, and a crowd-pleaser that can be prepared in advance and baked when needed. It’s great served with a salad of soft green leaves such as butter lettuce. The anchovies in the tomato sauce aren’t essential, but I like them (and recommend the Ortiz brand, which are milder than most). Feel free to leave them out, if you prefer.
- 3 large eggplants, sliced
- extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
- salt flakes, to taste
- 2 mozzarella di bufala, sliced
- 1½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- salt flakes, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 45g anchovy fillets in olive oil
- 800g canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
- 12 basil leaves, torn
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place eggplant on oiled oven trays, brush generously with oil, sprinkle with salt and bake for 20–30 minutes until well coloured.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat oil in a saucepan, add onion and a good pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, stir in garlic and anchovies, and cook for a further minute or so until well incorporated. Stir in tomatoes, mashing well with a wooden spoon to break them up, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15–20 minutes until thickened.
Stir basil through the tomato sauce and place a little in the base of a baking dish, add a layer of eggplant, top with a layer of mozzarella, some parmesan cheese and more sauce. Continue layering until all ingredients are used, pressing down gently to ensure everything is well coated with sauce, and finish with a layer of parmesan.
Bake for 15 minutes or so, until the top is well coloured.
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