The Best of Aubergines: Italian Parmigiana

Sicilian dish parmigiana is one of my favourite dishes, if not the favourite dish, starring one of my favourite¬† vegetables – the aubergine! With its layers of soft, smoky aubergine that melts in the mouth, slices of mozzarella and tomato sauce, parmigiana is an absolute star dish! Simple, yet stunning, and showcasing the best of the seasonal ingredients, this is my entry for Eating with the Seasons: September. I know, I know, I’ve already cooked with aubergine for Eating with the Seasons, but hey – aubergine is in season! ūüėÄ

My parmigiana is very simple, with few ingredients, and this is just the way I like it. I grill my aubergines (hence the smokiness from the previous paragraph), rather than fry them, which is traditional; I use a simple tomato sauce, with a touch of fresh basil. That’s it. That’s my secret. Not that you need many secrets with a combination of flavours as perfect as this.

 

Parmigiana with

 

Aubergines

 

SOURCE: Can’t remember. My variation of a few versions

PREPARATION TIME: 5 – 10 min

COOKING TIME: about 1 h

CUISINE: Italian (Sicilian)

SERVES: 3 – 4

 

INGREDIENTS:

I. For grilled aubergines

1 large aubergine

a little olive oil

salt and pepper

II. For the tomato sauce

a little olive oil

1/2 yellow onion

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tin tomatoes (I like the Napolina brand), or 400 g fresh tomatoes

a pinch of sugar

a handful of fresh basil

III. Cheese

1 packet of mozzarella, sliced

some grated parmesan for topping

 

IMG_6683

 

METHOD:

I. Grilled Aubergines

  • Cut the aubergines into either round slices, or diagonally. (Round is prettier!)
  • Season with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil. Try and use a brush here. It really makes your life easier, and the aubergines drink up less oil.
  • Grill the aubergine slices until soft and golden on both sides.

II. Tomato sauce

  • While the aubergines are cooking on the grill, gently cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent. (I sometimes skip the onion, and use only garlic)
  • Add the tomatoes, a small pinch of sugar and the seasoning, and cook for 5 – 10 min for a fresh-tasting tomato sauce, or longer if you prefer a richer tomatoey flavour.
  • Just before assembling the dish, put in a handful of fresh basil into the sauce and stir.

III. Assembling the dish

  • Put a layer of grilled aubergines at the bottom of a heatproof dish, top with mozzarella, and then tomato sauce. (I use an oval ceramic Le Creuset 24 cm baking dish for this purpose, which has the capacity of 1.1l.) Continue like this until you run out of aubergines, finishing off with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkled with parmesan on top.
  • Bake on 200 C or so for about 20 – 30 min, or until the top is nicely golden, and the cheese melted.

Serve with a salad and some garlic bread to mop up the juices.  

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Other aubergine recipes at Maninas:

Ajvar – aubergine and red pepper relish V

This lovely relish is probably the most popular condiment of the former Yugoslavia.

Indian Aubergine Pate РBaigan Bharta   V 

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Smoked Salmon and Lemon Thyme Spaghetti

This is¬†my contribution to Express Cooking Event, organised by Mallugirl, in search for quick tasty dishes. ‘Good food takes time to cook’, says Mallugirl. True, and not true. Here is a simple but luxurious, extremely quick dish,¬†that definitely falls into the category of good food! First of all, it’s extremely delicious, with its seductive creaminess, smokiness of the fish, garlic and lemon notes. Secondly, it’s good for you since it contains salmon, fish which is rich in omega 3! It contains cream (source of calcium), spaghetti (carbohydrate), olive oil, lemon and thyme! Yes, it is rather rich, but this is not an everyday dish anyway, but an occasional luxury. A perfect solution for special occasions when you have very very little time, like for example¬†a visit from friends, or boyfriend! It’s a good ace to have up your sleeve!

It may seem like an expensive dish, but it doesn’t have to be, since you don’t need much salmon, because smoked salmon is very flavoursome. Also, you can use smoked salmon bits and offcuts if necessary. Smoked trout would also work well. You can play around with the herbs you use, too!

I got the recipe from an Italian friend, and adapted it slightly, by adding lemon thyme and lemon juice. As usual, my additions are in italics.  

smoked salmon and lemon thyme spaghetti

Smoked Salmon and Lemon Thyme Spaghetti

 

SOURCE: adapted from a recipe given by an Italian friend

PREPARATION TIME: less than 5 min! (can be done while the pasta is cooking)

COOKING TIME: 10 – 12 min

CUISINE: Italian

SERVES: 2

INGREDIENTS:

spaghetti for two ( ~ 175 g dry weight)

100 – 125 g smoked salmon

olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

a few sprigs of lemon thyme (optional, regular thyme can also be used)

100 ml single cream

a squeeze of lemon juice

METHOD:

1. Boil the spaghetti. My packet says 10 – 12 min to cook.

2. Meanwhile, chop the salmon in strips, and chop the garlic.

3. Five minutes before the pasta is cooked, start preparing the sauce. Fry garlic and lemon thyme in olive oil for few minutes. Don’t let the garlic brown!

garlic and lemon thyme

4. Add salmon. When it discoulours, add cream, and heat through. Add a squeeze of lemon juice.

5. Tip the spaghetti into the sauce and mix. Serve, and garnish with lemon thyme if you wish. Add more lemon if you like.

smoked salmon and lemon thyme spaghetti
Verdict

Delicious, quick and easy! See above for more info!

smoked salmon and lemon thyme spaghetti

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Nigella’s Penne alla vodka

 

Leafing through Nigella’s Feast, I came across a recipe for Penne alla vodka, which tickled my imagination! A combination of vodka + tomato + cheese sounded very interesting, and admitedly, very appealing! According to Nigella, the dish originated in 1960s in Rome. Renowned American food writer and restaurant critic Arthur Schwartz¬†sheds light on how it originated:

“This is not a traditional Italian recipe. I know because I was there — more or less — at its invention. It was the early 1970s and vodka was a relatively new spirit to Italians. To promote the consumption of vodka in Italy, vodka distillers provided restaurants with gizmos that kept both the vodka and vodka glasses chilled and they held recipe contests among Italian chefs. This dish was the rage in fashion-conscious Italian circles in the mid ’70s. I never see it anymore in Italy. But Americans are entranced by the idea, even though it is nothing more than a tomato cream sauce with hot pepper and a good dose of vodka, which, to be frank, is hardly detectable in the finished dish.

To be totally historically correct, I should add that the hot pepper is a late addition. The original recipe was made with pepper-flavored vodka.”

Interesting, isn’t it?

Today, there are many versions of this dish, some including crushed chilies, other cubes of bacon. Why not play around with different possibilities?

¬†I am submitting this dish to Ruth’s Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon a Feast. Check out the round-up next Friday at Ruth’s!

[presto+past+nights.jpg]

 

 

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Penne alla vodka

 

SOURCE: Nigella Lawson’s Feast

PREPARATION TIME: less than 5 min

COOKING TIME: 30 – 35 min

CUISINE: Modern Italian

 

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1¬†tbsp garlic-infused oil (I just used olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic)
  • Salt
  • 1 can¬†chopped tomatoes
  • 1¬†tbsp double cream
  • penne rigate or other short, preferably ridged, pasta
  • 65¬†ml vodka
  • 2¬†tbsp unsalted butter
  • Parmesan for grating over at the table (I used cheddar)

Method

  1. If you are cooking this just before you eat, put the water on to boil before you start the sauce. You will need a big pan, enough to take the pasta and its sauce later.
  2. Finely chop the onion, either by hand or in a processor. In a large pan, heat the garlic oil and add the finely chopped onion and a good sprinkling of salt. Cook the onion fairly gently for about 15 minutes without letting it catch and burn, which just means giving it a stir every now and again. It should be very soft and just beginning to caramelize.
  3. Tip in the can of chopped tomatoes and continue cooking over a gentle heat, simmering for another 15-20 minutes. If you’re cooking this in advance, stop here.
  4. Reheat the almost finished tomatoes (or just continue as you were if you’re making this recipe in one go), stir in the double cream and take the pan off the heat. When the water for the pasta comes to the boil add a good measure of salt and tip in the penne. Set a timer for 3-4 minutes less than the packet instructions for cooking it, as you want to make sure it’s cooked al dente and will need to start tasting early.
  5. Drain the cooked pasta, tip it back in the pan and pour over the vodka, add the butter and some more salt. Turn the penne in the vodka and melting butter and then tip it into the tomato sauce unless it is easier to pour the tomato sauce over the pasta: it depends on the sizes of the pans you are using.
  6. Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is evenly coated and turn out into a large, warmed bowl. Put it on the table along with a block of parmesan cheese and a grater.

 

 

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Verdict:

Inspite of all the raving reviews from elsewhere, I was not too impressed by this dish. However, I think this maybe be purely my fault. I was a bit overenthusiastic with the vodka, and added about 1 dl or more¬†to the pasta, and this was exactly the problem for me: It had too much vodka. There you go, it is possible to have too much vodka! Also, I didn’t have any cream at home, so I just omitted it.

This is an interesting dish, and I promise I’ll give it another go when I have some vodka at home, and let you know how it went.

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Recipes for Penne alla vodka from other websites:

Arthur Schwartz’s recipe

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich at Epicurious

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