Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sicilian parmigiana and Nero d'Avola: what a combination!

My eggplant Parmigiana served with 3 Parmisan biscuits.

Have you ever heard about Parmigiana? I am sure the name rings a bell, but what is it exactly? The "Parmigiana di melanzane" is a very popular Sicilian summer dish made of fried eggplant (or aubergine) in layers, alternated by tomato sauce, fresh basil and usually local cheese such as pecorino fresco, also called primosale.
My mum's Parmigiana with mozzarella cheese.

One thing I need to make pretty clear: this is a superb dish for its simplicity of flavors, there are no eggs, no breadcrumb, no ham, no matter what other versions may say, this is the one and only. Trust me.

Someone will also tell you that the Parmigiana is not originally from Sicily but from Campania, which is also false. At least no historical documents can prove that so far, for sure I can tell you that it's a dish cooked in the whole of south of Italy, but its roots are Sicilian. 

Nero d'Avola Mandrarossa - Cantine Settesoli


With the lovely advice of wine blogger and sommelier Jaqueline Malenda, I have paired this amazing dish with one of our most renowned vine variety, 100% Nero d'Avola, and in particular with the DOC Mandrarossa called Nero d'Avola Costadune, produced by Cantine Settesoli (Menfi - AG).

Thanks to his good structure this wine is perfect not only with fried vegetables and local cheese, but more generally speaking with the robust traditional Sicilian recipes. 

It has a ruby colour and is characterised by strong hints of berry fruits. You will find that is an amazing combination even for the most demanding palates.

Ingredients for 4 people:

- 2 eggplants
(if are the big rounded ones, 3 if are the oval quality ones)
- 500 gr tomato sauce 
- a bunch of fresh basil
- 250 gr. primosale cheese
(or mozzarella can also be used)
- 60 gr. grated cheese like pecorino (or grana) *OPTIONAL

Preparation:

1. Start by cutting eggplants/aubergines in slices of about 2 cm (not too thin otherwise they will burn while frying). We usually place them in a colander with abundant salt and leave it there for about 15 minutes. My mother taught me since I was a kid that this is good for giving eggplants/aubergines a sweeter taste and letting release the bitter they contain. After that, rinse them under running water and they are ready to be cooked.


2. While you are waiting to rinse your veggies prepare a large frying pan with abundant extra virgin olive oil and put it on a medium flame. When it has become really hot start frying the slices of eggplants; (of course after you have rinse them and dry them a bit with a cloth.) This is better because it will prevent the hot oil from squirting.


My sister's Parmigiana with local primosale cheese.
3. Once your eggplants are all fried, begin layering them up in any oven tin; (you can use glass, ceramics or whatever you have at home.) Glass and ceramic tins are better because you can serve it directly from there.
At the bottom start with 3 spoons of tomato sauce, then a first layer of eggplant, tomato sauce again, grated cheese, fresh leaves of basil, slices of cheese and then start again for three layers or until you finish all your ingredients. Obviously I wouldn't make more than three or four layers at the most. The last layer must be made of eggplant slices, tomato sauce to cover the top and some grated cheese.
4. Grill in the oven at 180° C for about 20 minutes.

*Two important things to note:
- If you use the mozzarella instead of a harder cheese like primosale the result will be a more watery dish (as you can see in the pic from my mum's parmigiana)  because in the oven the mozzrella will release some water. You can see the difference with the other pic from my sister's parmigiana, which is more solid and compact, but I assure you, they were both sublime. And mine as well ;-)
- Grated cheese is mostly up to your taste, Sicilian caciocavallo can be an option but I use the grana or parmisan, because has a more delicate taste, though we all know that they are not Sicilian (just to be clear).


So... now our Parmigiana is ready! It can be eaten either hot straight away or cold the following day, either on its own or with some fresh mozzarella aside (like this pic on the left). You can offer it with some classic informal rustic bread or some parmisan biscuits if you are looking for something more refined and unusual (just as shown in the main picture above).

Any ways you are going to eat it... believe me... you are just gonna love it!