Although the eggplant originated in India, one of the most popular eggplant dishes enjoyed worldwide today comes from southern Italy. Eggplant parmagiana, or melanzana parmagiana as the Italians call it, is a flavorful dish that pleases everyone, even if everyone cannot agree on one standard recipe. Preparation and cooking technique vary from region to region, each blending its own ingredients and flare to create a new, unique taste.
While any variety of eggplant can be used in the dish, the size and shape of purple eggplant makes it easy to work with and therefore the most common choice for this dish. It is cut lengthwise, salted and placed under a heavy object like a saucepan or a bowl of water to drain out excess moisture that could otherwise cause the finished dish to become soggy. The next step is the first point of debate. Some cooks will coat the slices with breadcrumbs before frying them, while others skip the breading and drop them directly into the oil. Health conscious chefs will coat the portions with a thin layer of oil and bake them. There are also differences in opinions over the type of oil to be used. Olive oil is widely used in Italian fare, but some people prefer to fry in canola or peanut oil, claiming these oils produce a lighter taste.
Once the eggplant is fried or baked, it is placed in a baking dish in alternating layers with cheese and tomato sauce or tomato slices, depending on the recipe. The type of cheese to use is another point of discrepancy. Some believe that the dish derived its name from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, so it must be used in the dish. Others believe that the word originates from the Sicilian word "parmiciana", which refers to the slats of wood that overlap in shutters, much as the eggplant overlaps in parmagiana, and are content using various cheeses like mozzarella or caciocavallo. The completed dish is topped either with the cheese of choice or with breadcrumbs, if they were not initially used to coat the eggplant.
Eggplant parmagiana is often served with a side of pasta, fresh garden salad, and a loaf of crusty Italian bread. Veal and chicken are sometimes served either in the parmagiana or on the side. Leftovers, if there are any, can be served on a submarine roll for a quick sandwich, or on grilled slices of Italian bread. Regardless of accompaniments or its method of preparation, eggplant parmagiana is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Check out our growing collection of the best, taste-tested eggplant parmesan recipes complete with cooking tips and special techniques. Choose from a traditional or classic preparation or try an eggplant parmesan recipe with a creative culinary twist.
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