Aubergines are one of my favourite vegetables. Although actually, they’re a fruit and even a berry by botanical definition. I like them as Melanzane alla Parmigiana; make a Norma sauce nearly every week; love them in tagines or curries; in ratatouille – either traditionally cooked on top of the stove or roasted in the oven; and of course simply grilled. The ways of enjoying them are endless. I particularly remember flying Turkish Airlines to and from Istanbul a few years ago. The first memory is they give you Turkish delight before take-off! But I also remember being served a whole roasted aubergine as part of my onboard lunch, sliced down the middle with just some olive oil drizzled over and thinking how amazing it was.
It’s not a surprise therefore that when I saw Jamie Oliver was going to do something ‘different’ with aubergines in his current Channel 4 series – Jamie’s Keep Cooking Family Favourites – I just had to watch. Well, I’ve been watching all the episodes as it’s a great Jamie series; one of his best of late, I think. And what Jamie cooked was ‘Aubergine Parmigiana Milanese’ – also called ‘Melanzane alla Milanese’. Now, I wasn’t sure if that was a ‘real’ recipe, as in an Italian recipe that my Italian friends would consider authentic; the real thing. There is of course Pollo alla Milanese, which I love, but can you really substitute aubergine for chicken? So I googled it and sure enough there were quite a few recipes for it online. Of course that doesn’t vouch for its authenticity amongst Italians but I’ve no doubt my Italian friends will let me know what they think of it!
More importantly, it turned out to be a fantastic dish. I slightly changed Jamie’s recipe: I didn’t make my own breadcrumbs from rosemary focaccia but ‘cheated’ with a packet of panko breadcrumbs, used linguine rather than spaghetti; thought one egg rather than two would be plenty. But it was more or less what I watched him cook on TV about ten days ago. And I’m so glad I tried it!
The following recipe is for two but I halved it just for myself and froze half the tomato sauce.
Melanzane alla Milanese – Serves Two
- 1 large aubergine
- 1 egg
- 50g panko breadcrumbs
- olive oil
- about 20g Parmesan cheese
- 150-200g linguine or spaghetti
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (see below)
- handful of fresh basil leaves
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4.
Trim the stem of the aubergine if necessary but don’t cut off as it will help hold the cooked slices together. Trim the skin off two opposite sides; as thin as you can manage. Then cut the aubergine into 4 slices about 1 cm thick. Sprinkle with sea salt, rub in and bash slightly with a mallet or rolling pin to tenderise a bit. [I wasn’t sure about this, whether it was necessary, but did it a bit.] Dab away any liquid that seeps out of the aubergine.
Break the egg into a plate or shallow dish and whisk up with a fork. Tip the panko breadcrumbs (mine from Waitrose comes in a box with three packs of 50g each).
Dip each aubergine slice into the egg, both sides, shake off excess and then place in the panko breadcrumbs. Press down and then turn over to cover both sides.
Warm a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the aubergine slices and brown nicely on both sides. I pressed down slightly with a spatula (which I always do when I fry or griddle them for moussaka), to encourage the oil to seep right in.
When they’re nicely browned and softened, transfer to an oiled baking sheet.
Grate over a generous amount of Parmesan and put then in the preheated oven.
Put your pasta on to cook, according to the packet instructions.
Clean the frying pan with some kitchen towel and add another tablespoon of olive oil. Grate in a clove of garlic.
Don’t cook for long – just a few seconds as burnt garlic tastes bitter and horrid. Tip in the tinned tomatoes. Now, I had a jar of fancy ‘pressed heirloom tomatoes’ from Odysea, which only weighed 300g. But that was enough and they were pretty special. If you’re using a tin, they’re usually 400g and use it all.
Tear in a few basil leaves and season well with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer and let it bubble away gently while the pasta cooks and the aubergine finishes in the oven. Check seasoning.
When the pasta is ready, drain it and tip it into the sauce. For the Italian touch, always tip the pasta into the sauce; don’t dump the sauce on top. Now gently turn the pasta over in the sauce until it is well covered.
Transfer the pasta and tomato sauce to a serving dish. Take the aubergine slices from the oven. The Parmesan should have melted a bit over the top. Lay them across the pasta. Grate over more Parmesan; sprinkle over a few more torn basil leaves. Drizzle over just a little olive oil to finish.
It looked really wonderful. It was still early and the weather just about nice enough to take my supper into the garden. I made a green side salad to go with it and poured a glass of red wine.
It looked really special. But wow! The taste was fantastic. I thought it would be good but it was better than ‘good’. The crispy coating of the aubergine with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan was a perfect foil to the creamy soft aubergine flesh inside. And of course aubergine marries beautifully with tomatoes and pasta, so all in all it was just a brilliant combination and a very special supper indeed.