I had made it one of my goals for 2020 to get into the kitchen with Angela, Beppe's mom, to start learning her recipes. The current pandemic has put being together on pause, but we have found ways to connect virtually and she successfully taught me one of Beppe's favorites, eggplant parmigiana, over WhatsApp and videos. Read on for the full story and recipe.
Beppe's birthday is in April. Usually we are on the road or on tour; we never have the day to ourselves to celebrate. This year, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that. It was so nice to be able to celebrate together while not having the responsibilities of being on tour, however, the fact that most restaurants (and everything else) were closed limited our options for things to do.
I decided to cook something special for Beppe and to involve his family back home in Italy. One of his favorite dishes is his mom's eggplant parmigiana. She usually makes it special for us when we return to Italy from the USA. Stuck at home and with more time on my hands, it was the right moment to tackle this dish. Of course, I would have preferred to learn from Angela in her kitchen, side by side, but for now that has to wait.
I texted her and told her what I wanted to do. Instead of just telling me the necessary steps, she made videos of parts of the process. I followed up with a few questions and she quickly got back to me. We kept our correspondence and plan a secret from Beppe but I did have my quarantine kitchen helpers with me.
Below is the recipe. In true Italian home cooking fashion, measurements are imprecise or not given at all. It's all about look and feeling. I did ask for a few specifics, like what temperature to set the oven, but even that is an estimate. So is cooking time. Use you best judgement and if you try one and it doesn't come out to your liking, try again with some tweaks.
Angela's Eggplant Parmigiana
- One large eggplant
- Tomato sauce (sugo): one can crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic (my add), spices
- Cheese (I used grated Parmigiano Reggiano, fontina and mozzarella. Angela advised against mozzarella because the kind available in Italy (very fresh) is too watery when it melts. I used a dry mozzarella and only for the top. I used fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano for the lower layers.
- White flour
- Olive oil for frying
- Prepare the sauce*: place saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and one chopped clove of garlic, sauté. Add one can of crushed tomatoes and sprinkle Italian seasoning (about 1/4 teaspoon) and a pinch of salt. Let simmer while you prepare the eggplant.
*Angela did not give me instructions on how to make this. She only told me to "prepare a sugo." I made mine the way I usually do, which I'm sure includes more garlic than Angela's.
- Slice the eggplant into even, thin slices
- Add oil to a frying pan (enough to submerge the eggplant slices) and put on the stove on medium/high heat.
- Fill a paper bag with flour, and, doing a few at a time, add eggplant slices to bag and shake. Remove from bag and repeat until all slices are coated.
- Crack a few eggs into a bowl and scramble.
- One at a time, dunk the eggplant slices into the eggs.
- Test the oil by dropping a bit of egg into the pan. Adjust heat if necessary.
- When ready, add the eggplant slices to the pan to fry. Only do one layer at a time.
- Fry slices until they are golden brown on one side, then flip with a fork and repeat.
- Remove from the oil and lay them out on a paper. Sprinkle with salt.
- Repeat until all are done, then let cool.
- When ready to assemble and bake, preheat oven to ~350 degrees F.
- Add a layer of sauce to the bottom of a baking pan**.
- On top of the sauce, make a layer of eggplant slices. Layer sauce and cheese on top of that**.
**One of the fundamentals of Italian cooking is that less is more. Americans tend to overdo it with the sauce and cheese, so for the middle layers use less than you think you need.
- Repeat layers until you run our of eggplant (or reach the top of the pan!). I put extra cheese (mozzarella) on the very top.
- Cover with tinfoil and bake 30-45 minutes.
- Remove the tinfoil and cook a few minutes more to crisp the cheese on top.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let rest before cutting and eating.
Here are the video's that Beppe's mom sent me. They're all in Italian and I haven't gotten around to subtitling them yet. Basically, she explains several of the steps that I've listed above. The other voice in the video is Beppe's dad.
If you try this recipe, please share the results! Do you have your own go-to recipe for Eggplant Parm? Share that, too!