Nino Mosca is an Napolitan chef and maitre de maison of Relais & Chateaux Il Bottaccio in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. He shares a simple but formative recipe with us at The Kitchen so our readers can experience the joy his grandmother taught him.
I was born and raised in Naples. And there my grandma, the first and only teacher I ever had, taught me how to make Parmigiana di Melanzane. Her recipe (now mine too) is the Neapolitan way of cooking melanzane (eggplant/aubergine). It combines the Italian flag colours with summer tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, garlic, parmesan and eggplant.
Parmigiana di Melanzane Napolitana recipe
Cooking time: 1 hour
1 large can of good quality crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 glove of garlic, peeled.
4.5 basil leaves (preferably from the top of the plant)
1 large eggplant, cut into very thin slices (about 3 mm thick, you should have about 16 slices.)
100 grams of fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into small cubes, about 2.5cm
50 grams of grated good quality parmesan cheese
Flour and oil for frying
Salt and pepper, to taste.
Add the crushed tomatoes to your blender and blend until smooth.
Grab a big container, and above it place a sieve. Little by little pass your tomato sauce through it with the help of a spoon, it will result in a tomato puree without any seeds or skin. This will refine your sauce.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the garlic. As soon as your garlic starts singing (sizzling) add the tomato puree and basil. Simmer until the sauce becomes thick (about 20 minutes) and then season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove garlic and basil leaves.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get ready to fry your eggplant.
Fill another large pot with the oil for frying. Grab another container and put some flour in it. Once the oil is very hot, coat each eggplant slice in flour and fry it until golden in colour (1 to 2 minutes). Drain them on paper towels.
Now assemble your parmigiana!
In an oven-proof container, place 4 eggplant slices, to create a bottom layer. Spread the layer with some sauce, then mozzarella cubes (about 4 or 6 of them) and some Parmesan. Repeat the same process at least twice. For the top layer, carefully set another round of eggplants, a little more sauce, all the remaining mozzarella and a generous amount of parmesan cheese.
Bake until cheese has melted, about 10 minutes. Serve hot with some Amalfi Pesto on the side if you're feeling fancy. Stay tuned to The Kitchen to get that recipe soon.
For a lighter taste and better presentation remove the eggplant skin before cutting it.
Cooking with Nonna Maria
We used to prepare this classic dish after church. My grandma Maria knew very well how to leverage the energy of a group of little boys after the tiring sermon from our priest Don Sossio.
Nonna Maria would wear her fancy floral-patterned apron and charm us into becoming her assistants. My first job was to peel and cut the eggplants lengthwise, and then to put them under a press with coarse salt. At the time the eggplants had a lot more taste, and putting them under the press with salt released the solanine, which is what gives them the bitter taste.
My second task was to grate the parmesan with the firm request that I would do so singing! Finally, I was to sprinkle the parmesan, that magic white powder, over the layers of eggplants, tomato and mozzarella: I felt like a magician who gave joy and happiness to everyone. I still get that feeling when I prepare it for our Sunday menu at the restaurant.