Sunday, November 4, 2012

Eggplant Parmigiana of Mamma Agata


Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I didn't eat growing up nor did my husband so I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I've actually bought fresh eggplant.  Fried eggplant marinara or eggplant parmigiana are dishes I have ordered when dining out but I've had both good and bad experiences, therefore eggplant has never become a favorite. That has forever changed with this delicious recipe!

In September, I was the very lucky winner of a cookbook called Mamma Agata, Simple and Genuine from At Home with Vicki Bensinger (whose blog I subscribe to and the source of the maple roasted carrots and parsnips in my last post).  Vicki teaches culinary classes and had learned about Mamma Agata's cooking school in Italy when she traveled there a few years ago.  A relationship was struck over the internet between Vicki and Mamma Agata's English-speaking daughter, Chiara, who also works in the cooking school. She graciously offered Vicki a copy of  cookbook for one of Vicki's readers. Thank you, Vicki and thank you, Chiara and Mamma Agata


Mamma Agata has cooked for many celebrities over the years, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Anita Eckberg,  Pierce Brosnan and many others.. Now she has her own culinary school on the Amalfi Coast in the town of Ravello overlooking the sea.  It would be a dream come true to visit Mamma Agata's cooking school!



The cookbook was shipped from Italy and was signed especially for me. I am thrilled with it! The pages are filled with gorgeous photos of her home and gardens, family, the surrounding beautiful area and many interesting stories about her life. 

The wonderful thing about this eggplant parmigiana is that it tastes even better the second day so you can prepare it and bake it the day before and gently reheat it in the oven. It is time-consuming to make so you'll be happy you did it a day ahead ;) Make it on the weekend to enjoy for a relaxed Sunday dinner or a weeknight meal.. It was simple, genuine and absolutely delicious! Here is a recent article about this very dish from CNN...


and also a special video of the actor Sam Page (who grew up in Milwaukee) taking a cooking class with Mamma Agata and Chiara a few years ago:


Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmigiana) from Mamma Agata’s ‘Simple and Genuine’ Cook Book
Printable Recipe

Serves 4

My Notes: 

The recipe may seem daunting at first but just take it one step at a time.  It is well worth the effort!

I only used half the amount of Peanut oil to fry the eggplant slices. I used a large cast iron skillet. The smoked cheese (I used gouda) imparts a wonderful, earthy flavor to this dish - do not eliminate.  Since I could not find Japanese eggplants, I used baby eggplants. I did not make Mamma's fresh tomato sauce below as it is no longer fresh tomato season here. I used a good-quality bottled marinara sauce. There is a product called Wondra which I used for coating the eggplants. It is a very fine flour, hopefully similar to the 00 Italian flour which I could not find.  I used regular mozzarella as I didn't read the recipe carefully enough when I made my shopping list!  If you do use mozzarella in water you have to plan another day ahead to remove the moisture as stated in the recipe.

Ingredients:

8 eggplants (long, thin and firm, such as Japanese eggplants)
Sea salt
1/2 lb Mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano/Parmesan cheese (grated)
1/2 lb smoked Provolone cheese (or any similar smoked cheese such as Gouda)
1 3/4 oz 00 farina flour (or white pastry flour) to coat the eggplant
20 basil leaves
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil for frying (NOTE: Do not use olive oil)
1 cup of Mamma Agata’s Tomato Sauce (recipe below), or any tomato sauce you like

Mamma Agata’s Secrets:

The type of eggplant that Mamma Agata uses is very important in this recipe. The eggplant needs to be long, thin and firm; Japanese eggplants work well. Ultimately, the shape, firmness and (low) water content is critical to the success of a good Eggplant Parmigiana. Less water in the eggplant means more flavor in your dish and not soggy eggplant Parmigiana!

Buy fresh mozzarella cheese (in water). Two days before making your eggplant Parmigiana, remove the cheese from the water and place in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to dry out. Otherwise, all of the water contained in the mozzarella will leak into your eggplant and you will have a soggy eggplant Parmigiana.

Preparation of the eggplant:

Wash the eggplant and remove the top and end of each eggplant. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin of the eggplant lengthwise (i.e. along the length of the eggplant) in stripes, like a zebra, keeping some of the skin on the eggplant to preserve the essential vitamins and flavor of the eggplant.

Once the eggplant is peeled, slice it lengthwise into long pieces about 1/2 inch thick. Do not slice too thin, as it will reduce in size during cooking.

Layer the eggplant slices around the edge of a colander/strainer; sprinkle each slice of eggplant with a pinch of sea salt. Allow the salted eggplant to sit for thirty minutes, to assist in draining out excess water and removing the bitter taste from the eggplant.

After thirty minutes, gently squeeze out excess water from the eggplant slices, 3-4 slices of eggplant at a time, starting from the top of the slices to the bottom. Do not rinse off the salt, as eggplants are like sponges and will absorb the water.

Place the flour on a plate. Dip each slice of eggplant into the flour to cover on both sides. Work quickly, as you do not want the eggplant to absorb too much flour or they will become too soggy to fry.

Frying the eggplant:

Using a deep frying pan, pour in at least a quart of oil, leaving one inch from the top. Do not overfill the frying pan with ingredients. The oil should be very hot, at least 374 degrees Fahrenheit.

Test to see if the oil is hot enough by placing a small potion of the ingredients in the oil. They should float to the top and start to bubble. Seed oils are the best for frying because they have a high burning point. Peanut and vegetable oils are great.

Fry the eggplant slices until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place them onto a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

Preparing the eggplant Parmigiana:

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Gather the ingredients, including the tomato sauce, mozzarella and provolone cheeses, grated Parmigiano cheese, and slices of eggplant.

Now, begin to layer your eggplant Parmigiana in a baking dish as follows:

Tomato sauce (use SPARINGLY – too much will make it soggy)
Eggplant, almost two layers in one
Parmigiano cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Smoked provolone or Gouda cheese
Fresh basil leaves

Repeat this process twice, creating three layers in total. The top layer may be higher than the baking dish when it is ready for the oven.

NOTE: The third layer is the top layer and should only include Mamma Agata’s Tomato Sauce and Parmigiano cheese, without mozzarella and provolone cheese. Also, place a cookie sheet or aluminum foil on the rack below your baking dish, as this dish tends to leak out or spill over when baking.

Bake the eggplant Parmigiana in the pre-heated oven for about one hour. After one hour, turn off the heat in the oven, leaving the dish in there for an additional ten minutes with the oven door slightly open. Then, remove the Eggplant from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for at least 40 minutes before serving.

Mamma Agata’s Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

1 quart of vine-ripened Roma tomatoes (pureed)
10 fresh cherry tomatoes
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic
3 fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Add the olive oil, garlic and basil to a large saucepan. NOTE: Do this at the same time and do NOT heat the oil first.

Heat the ingredients over a high flame to release the natural oils contained in the fresh garlic, enhancing the flavors of the tomato sauce. Be careful not to allowe the garlic to burn or smoke. The garlic and oil should be on high flame for one to two minutes.

When the temperature of the oil begins to rise, add the tomato puree and fresh vine-ripened cherry tomatoes to the pan.

Cook the sauce, first over a high flame just until the sauce begins to boil. Then, lower the flame to simmer the sauce for a total of thirty minutes (including the time it took to bring it to a boil.)

61 comments:

  1. This recipe sounds amazing and I love the way it goes together. The tips given in the book are excellent as well. I do like the use of the smoked cheese, I think it would impart an excellent flavor and btw, I think I NEED that book. It looks to be one I would use often. I dearly love eggplant Parmasan as does my husband so I will definitely try this recipe, it is somewhat different from the way I have always made it. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Carolyn/A Southerners Notebook

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  2. Definitely requires some work but I am sure it was well worth the effort! How lucky you are to get a personally signed book. I always wanted to travel the Amalfi coast, a cooking school there would be cherry on top:)

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  3. Oh this is one of those meals that take you all day and everyone gobbles it up!!!! This eggplant parmesan looks divine!!!
    Your's looks scrumptious! WHat a wonderful prize. You are the perfect person to win this... and then share it with all of us! Thanks!

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  4. Love eggplant parmesean, unfortunately hubby doesn't care for it. I order it out whenever I can. looks like a great cookbook too.

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    1. Julie, I didn't think my husband did either! The type and preparation of the eggplant is the key here. No bitter taste at all!

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  5. Oh what a sweet gift you received from Vicki and her friend. I truly enjoyed watching the video and I imagined all the wonderful aromas wafting about in that Italian kitchen. I would love to hear more of Mamma Agata's stories, too.

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  6. First - Congratulations on winning!!!
    Looks and sounds so good, but doubt I would every try making the dish. I have had some that was very good and some not.
    Hope you have enjoyed your weekend.

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  7. Im hungry only to see these puictures I love eggsplants and think this book look really nice, congrats dear!!!

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  8. This resonates with me as today I made lasagna with stuff I thought up that seemed appropriate. It is swell and there's enough for Peter and me to eat it for dinner again tomorrow. I love eggplant parmigiana, but I'm a bit leery of the intense preparation it seems to call for. I think I'll stick to ordering it in a good restaurant.

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  9. Oh, I wish I saw this earlier! I made lasagna and chicken cutlets tonight-I have eggplant in the refrigerator. I wasn't thinking. Looks delicious!
    -Lynn

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  10. I love eggplant and your photos make this recipe look delicious! Thank you for sharing :)

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  11. Looks delicious, and yes, I am a fan of eggplant!

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  12. I've seen Momma Agatha cooking videos on YouTube and I'd also love to be able to take a class from her home in the beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy! You were so lucky to win her cookbook, Susan.

    I make eggplant parmesan frequently as it is my daughter's favorite meal, but I never added a smoked cheese to it. I will try that next time I prepare it.

    Thank you for all your kind wods of support for the Hurrican Sandy victims. I have been voluteering at a temporary shelter in Brooklyn for people that lost their homes. It is wonderful to see how many people are helping and donating goods that are needed.

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  13. ooh,too bad I didn't know this recipe when I had oodles of Japanese eggplant from the garden. It looks delicious. Lucky you to win the autographed cookbook. your photos are always fantastic Susan. happy week to you.

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  14. How lucky you were to receive such a book that is signed by Mama Agata herself! I'm with you, it would be a dream to take this cooking class! This does look like quite a daunting recipe but one that would be good to save for when I am wanting a good challenge. I love eggplant parmigiana!

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  15. This is one of our all time faves..Susan..I sneak it cold even:-)
    Never thought of using Wondra..:-) My friend ..Italian:-) taught me to add a bit of baking powder:-) to the flour.
    I am glad you received this beautiful book:-)
    Your photos are perfect:-)

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    1. I will have to try your Italian friends idea of adding a little baking powder, Monique! I'm sure I will be making this many times over.

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  16. Hi Susan - Eggplant Parm is my all-time favorite thing to eat so I'm sure I would do cartwheels over this version. It sounds truly fabulous. Mamma Agata's fresh tomato sauce sounds wonderful too - very similar to my favorite quick version made from canned tomatoes - I'll be sharing it on my blog sometime in the near future. As always, fabulous photos.

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  17. Congratulations, Susan. Have to add this cookbook to my X'mas wishlist ;-)
    The Eggplant Parm looks out of this world delicious!

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  18. What an incredible cookbook to add to the mix my friend and with such a delicious recipe in it :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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  19. Congratulations on winning the beautiful book! And the eggplant parmigiana looks really delicious! I love eggplants! What an incredible book, will have to take a look at it!
    Have a great week!

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  20. Wow, that truly does look like a labor of love! No doubt it's amazing though:@)

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  21. Congratulations on winning such a nice book of authentic Italian recipes. I love eggplant parmesan but have never used a smoked cheese when preparing it. I'll have to give it a try.

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  22. Congratulations on winning that cookbook. And to have it shipped from Italy and signed. wow. I'll have to put it on my wish list. I don't cook eggplant very much either and when I do , it's usually for fried eggplant parmesan, which is NOTHING like what you've made here. I don't mind the production dishes at all and would love to try this. Thanks for taking the time to post that long recipe. Pinned.

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  23. What a special cookbook to get with real deal Italian recipes. I remember my first bitter tasting Eggplant Parmeasan in a restaurtant and it was many years before I tried it again. I grew some eggplant just to see and found they were not bitter, even when unpeeled, and we've been fans every since. We usually go with a simple version but are always looking for a new version to try and this looks like the one. After seeing your shots, time to prepare will not be an issue as it is now a must try.

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  24. I'm sure this recipe is worth all the steps involved. It looks absolutely delicious, Susan. Your cookbook is a real treasure, Susan.

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  25. PS - After watching the video, I want to head for the amalfi coast.

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  26. My feeling exactly on the eggplant. I think I made it once. Yours looks fabulous though and I am sure it tastes even better!

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  27. YUM!! As a person who loves to spend time in the kitchen, I'm not daunted by the time required to prepare this dish! It's like Thanksgiving dinner .... takes all day to prepare and then the meal is over in an hour or less ... but it is SO worth it. Thanks for sharing.

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  28. Parmigiana di melanzane is my favourite dish ! I am glad you received this beautiful book...Have a nice week Susan, a warm hug..

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  29. I love eggplant when done well and this looks like it was done really, really well! It's beautiful!

    Sues

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  30. Italians are masters in cooking eggplant! I have eaten this dish in Italy and I loved it! This one looks like the one I have enjoyed there! Delicious!

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  31. I cook quite a bit of eggplant but have somehow never made eggplant parm! This looks like the ultimate comfort food version of it!

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  32. Last weekend on our weekly mountain trip, we brought back yet more eggplants and i was wondering what to do with them, having exhausted all the usual stuffed and stews with eggplant recipes. This dish is perfect for now, just got some cheese at the store and your description of the book makes me want to order it and check out these Italian scenic views!

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  33. It looks so delicious Susan... any vegetable lasagne gets my vote and this one looks so beautiful too..
    Lucky winner you and such happy virtual friendships..
    Ronelle

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  34. Oh Susan, this eggplant parmegiana sure looks delicious...I love this dish, but yet have to make my own...congratulations in winning the book...
    Thanks for sharing this recipe and have a great week :)

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  35. Unlike you, I've always loved eggplant. My mother served it often. This is such a fabulous recipe, Susan. What fun to have won the cookbook!

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  36. wow love this post how neat to have a signed copy of her book, I hope you can visit the cooking school one day this looks wonderful :-)

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  37. Absolutely irresistible and they look perfect!

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  38. This is what I missed Susan; your blog and how you inspire me to try something new. You really make it sound wonderful and I think I could make this; what an interesting book. Eggplant is something I have never tried.
    Rita

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  39. One of our Cheesepalooza participants just went to this cooking school - so it was on my radar - and now it is on "the list". The book couldn't have gone to a better person! Ah, Italy! Have you been, Susan? No matter how hard we try to replicate the food here, it will rarely be as good. The soil, the sun and the air there is just different... as are the hands that prepare their usually simple food. I also learned to make my Eggplant Parmigiana from my Italian friends and it is deadly delish! Much simpler than this - and this one, I will definitely try! YUM! :) V

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  40. It's been so long since I've had eggplant parmesan. Such wonderful pictures.

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  41. Eggplant parm never looked more delicious. What a great recipe.

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  42. Hi, interesting eggplant dish. Your pictures are excellent, very well taken.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe. Your blog look great, I'm following you.

    Have a nice week ahead,regards.

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  43. I also didn't grow up eating eggplant. But I've more than made up for it now:) Eggplant parmigiana is one of my husband's all time favorite dishes. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe and cookbook tip. Going to check it out on Amazon now.

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  44. This definitely sounds like a labor of love but I bet it was absolutely amazing. I'm a huge eggplant fanatic so I would love this.

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  45. Susan. I'm so sorry I'm just reading this. I've had such a crazy couple of weeks but so glad to see this. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite dishes and yours looks picture perfect.

    I love how you've described Mamma's book. It truly is beautiful. I'm ordering one to give to both my sisters for the holidays. Every recipe is so good that I feel like I need to share this book with so many. Thank you for your kind words as well.

    It would be fun to get a group together to head over to Mamma's sometime. We could make it a fun food bloggers event!

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  46. Congratulations on receiving such a lovely signed cookbook and from Italy, even better!
    I love eggplant but never make it at home because I'm the only one that likes it!!
    I order eggplant in restaurants all the time though, love the look of your dish;-)

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  47. Definitely the kind of recipe that takes time but looks like it's really worth it...,my mouth is watering.

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  48. Grew up eating eggplants. Love it.
    I was ask by my family to make my eggplant lasagna for thanksgiving, FYI we don't do a traditional dinner.
    I might just have to try this recipe and see what they all think.
    It looks mouthwatering indeed.

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  49. It looks delicious, Susan!
    Mike makes the eggplant here, so I don't want to take his job from him. He does an excellent job, and it is a very time consuming task if you do it right.
    How lovely to get that book!

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  50. Hi! I've only just run across your Blog. I'll be a regular visitor now ... lurking, lurking, waiting for wee tasty morsels like these. You know, I want to make these now and freeze for my sisters arrival (in feb'13). Will they survive this long?

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  51. Thank you for the nice comment Nilanjana :) I have never tried freezing it myself because we usually eat it all within a couple of days. I think I would be afraid of the eggplant getting 'mushy' after freezing. The best idea might be to make it and bake it the day before they arrive since Mamma Agata says that it tastes even better reheated the next day. I hope that helps!

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  52. Looks so wonderful! I love eggplant. I grew up with it growing in the garden and we ate it often. I am going to look for that cookbook..you are right that to attend that cooking school would be a dream come true. Wouldn't it be fun for all of the sweet and savories to do it together!

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  53. I remember this recipe now! I will have to try my next eggplant parmigiana with the addition of smoked gouda cheese. Thanks for the reminder, Susan!

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