I PICKED up a box full of beautiful aubergines from the market today so it’s all about aubergines this week! Although often associated with warmer climates and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, aubergines are widely cultivated here in the UK and you’ll find them in season now until late September.
They’re also very reasonably priced at the moment so pick one up next time you visit the supermarket or greengrocers.
Technically a fruit, the aubergine is actually used as a vegetable and used in popular dishes such as ratatouille, Greek moussaka and the Middle Eastern dip baba ghanoush.
Aubergines have a subtle, slightly smoky flavour and smooth texture which makes them a really versatile ingredient that can carry and compliment bold flavours and spices.
Slice them and try them on the barbecue with a little olive oil and salt. Or cook them whole until slightly charred to bring out their smoky flavour before peeling and chopping them into your dish.
Aubergine Parmigiana is one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I was training to be a chef. It requires a fair bit of preparation but it’s worth it and you can make a batch of the Napoli sauce in advance and freeze it until required.
You can also use this sauce as a base for pasta dishes and homemade pizza.
This is a great recipe for a midweek family meal. Serve with a few salad leaves and some crusty bread.
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
3 aubergines, sliced
1 ball mozzarella
75g white breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
Fresh flat leaf parsley
For the Béchamel sauce:
1 onion, halved
1 bay leaf
For the Napoli sauce:
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 180c.
To make the Napoli sauce, sweat the onions and garlic together for a few minutes until softened. Add the tomatoes (and juice) and bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer for five minutes. Using a whisk, crush the tomatoes until they start to break down and then whisk until smooth. Cook for a further three minutes, add a few leaves of basil and season to taste.
To make the béchamel sauce, gently bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan with the onion and bay leaf. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes before removing the onion and bay leaf.
In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour to create a paste. Cook for two minutes then gradually add the milk, stirring continuously for 10-15 minutes until thickened and smooth. Season to taste and remove from the heat.
Place the slices of aubergine into a colander and sprinkle with two tbsp salt. Leave for 30 minutes, rinse then pat dry with some kitchen paper (this will remove any bitterness). Lightly coat the aubergine in the flour and fry for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned. Do this in batches – don’t overcrowd the pan.
To assemble the dish, add a little Napoli sauce to the bottom of a small lasagne dish. Add a layer of aubergines then top with alternate stripes of Napoli sauce and béchamel sauce and some of the parmesan.
Tear a little mozzarella into the dish and a few basil leaves then repeat to create another layer until all the ingredients have been used. Depending on the size of the dish, you should have two or three layers.
Finally, mix the breadcrumbs with the garlic, a handful of parsley, salt and pepper and a little olive oil and sprinkle on the top. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.