Melanzane alla Parmigiana (or Aubergine/Eggplant Parmigiana, if you prefer) has always been one of my favourite dishes, as a healthier (and often tastier) alternative to lasagna. This version of miniature individual aubergine and Parmesan stacks is the perfect dish to prepare as a starter at any dinner party. You can hardly go wrong when you have soft, grilled aubergine, melted cheese and a rich tomato sauce. If you’re going for a less messy approach and want to impress your guests even more, then you can always stack the ingredients up in little ramekins and either serve them inside them or carefully turn them out. I went for the messy, au natural approach and there were grins all round the table. You can also omit the breadcrumbs if you’re after a gluten-free recipe, but you may end up with a slightly messier result.
2 aubergines, sliced about ¼ inch thick – you’re aiming for about 24 slices total, but if you have more then even better
¼ cup olive oil (plus another 1 tablespoon)
1 tsp salt, ideally coarse/rock salt
1 cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
3 cups rich tomato sauce (you can make your own using tinned tomatoes, finely chopped garlic, onion and oregano, or just find a really good store-bought pasta sauce. This makes a lot of difference, so don’t be a cheapskate!)
1-2 balls fresh mozzarella, halved and sliced into ¼-inch slices – you’re again aiming for about 24 slices total. I had loads more so layered generously.
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C and heat your griddle pan over a medium-high heat.
2. Brush each slice of aubergine with the ¼ cup of olive oil and season with the salt. Cook in batches on your griddle pan, turning once, until the slices have a nice char to them and are soft but still manoeuvrable – probably about 10 minutes. Carefully transfer to a kitchen roll-lined plate whilst you cook the next batch. (If you don’t have a griddle pan, they can be cooked under a grill or just on a hot frying pan)
3. In a medium bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, black pepper and herbs with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
4. Place 8 slices of the grilled aubergine on a foil-lined baking tray. Top each with 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon of the breadcrumb mixture and a slice of mozzarella. Repeat twice on top of this to make little stacks. If there are any excess slices of aubergine and Parmesan, make more stacks for special/hungry guests.
5. Bake for around 30 minutes, until they are golden and bubbling. Sprinkle with a few herbs and some freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.
6. Wait for the applause and enjoy!