Today, January 17th, marks the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines. This year, Eggplant Parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane) is the highlighted national dish. As in past years, this is a celebration of Italian heritage and food culture as well as a way of emphasizing that what makes the cuisine of this country held in such high esteem is the attention to detail and quality of ingredients. For this year’s feature, this is no less true than in past years. The freshest, meaty eggplant combined with sweet-tart tomato sauce, peppery basil, and creamy mozzarella cheese come together on one plate in this recipe.
I didn’t really grow up loving eggplant. My mother actually tried to sneak it into quite a few meals that she fed to our clan, which was quite unsuccessfully received. I think a few of my siblings still have nightmares about the time she tried to incorporate it into tacos. Thankfully, I wasn’t around for that one. Somewhere along the line, however, I tried this marriage of fried vegetables and gooey cheese with rich tomato sauce and fell in love with it.
When I lived in Italy, I discovered that this is considered a secondo, or second course, served after the pasta course. I’m not sure why I would have thought it was a regular first course, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with just eating one course for Italian-style meals. When I assisted Gennaro of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School a couple of years ago, he gave me several tips on how he prepares his version of parmigiana di melanzane, which I shared in my post about their cooking class.
As with any classic recipe, there are many regional variations. I have seen recipes that call for dredging the slices in flour and then egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry them. Some folks just dip them in flour and fry them. There’s been recipes that call for roasting the eggplant instead of frying it. Then, there’s the cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala or any combination thereof. Even on the IDIC website, the post about “The Authentic Parmigiana: A Glorious Italian Dish” has several adaptations.
The organizers have included a recipe on their website, which recognizes some of these variations but still keeps to a pretty straightforward interpretation of its preparation. Whatever way you decide to make it, the use of the best and freshest ingredients possible is still the most important way to prepare this dish. That is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of what the International Day of Italian Cuisines represents.