Both Campania and Sicily claim it as their own, and given that Campania was formerly part of il Regno di Sicilia (the Kingdom of Sicily), this is not surprising. Most non-Italians I come across erroneously believe that the name of this dish comes from the use of the hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano. Hence calling it eggplant parmesan.
However, the name actually reflects the arrangement of the aubergines/eggplants (melanzane). Since each slice slightly overlaps the previous, it resembles the slats on a wooden shutter. In Sicilian dialect, parmiciana is the word given to wooden shutter slats, while palmigiana is the shutter itself—parmigiana is merely a combination of these two words, and nothing to do with cheese. At all!
In addition, Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from the northern Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia, so it’s highly unlikely that it would form part of a southern culinary tradition.
While delicious, many Parmigiana di Melanzane recipes are quite greasy. Eggplant slices are breaded and fried before getting layered in sauce and mozzarella. Unlike breaded eggplant that doesn’t stay crisp for long, this one has the breadcrumbs on top where they remain dry and un-mushy.
Healthy GF Vegan Eggplant Parmesan (Parmigiana di Melanzane)
- 2 large aubergine
- 1 can (400g) herby tomato sauce
- to taste salt, pepper
- 1–2 tsp Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, parsley)
- 150 g (or more if you like) vegan mozzarella pieces
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 1/2 cup GF breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- to taste vegan parmesan
- fresh basil
- 1/2 ts dried roegano
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and grab a metal baking tray.
Top the aubergine and cut it into 1 cm slices lengthwise. You may want to discard skin-covered ends.
2. Place the aubergine slices on the baking tray (no need to grease them) and into the hot oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping them gently once halfway through the baking time. Bake until they are soft and lightly browned.
3. In an casserole dish, start with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then arrange a layer of aubergine slices on top, so that each one slightly overlaps its neighbor. Season the eggplants with salt, pepper and some extra dried Italian herbs.
4. Add another layer of sauce, and then a layer of vegan mozzarella. Continue this way, finishing with a layer of tomato sauce.
5. Finish off the last layer with leftover cheese, scatter with pine nuts.
6. In a small bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, olive oil, fresh oregano, and a little salt and pepper. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden on top. Check frequently and cover with foil if the top gets too brown.
8. Once it’s done, remove from the oven, and sprinkle the vegan parmesan over the top, along with the basil.
9. Enjoy warm.
Serve with a simple green salad and some fresh bread.
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Photo: Imola Toth