Autumn is well and truly here. Sun glistening through the multicoloured leaves, a glass of deep red wine, overlooking the canal. One of life’s simple pleasures. Autumn always reminds me of Italy; hearty and rustic, with food that always blended into the colours of the falling leaves. Italian food is synonymous with flavour, warmth, and love.
My Sicilian grandmother Nunciata “Nancy” always cooked for us, and her food would fill our entire house with these aromas that as a child made me feel so happy. Today in honour of her I am cooking a family favourite, but with a healthy twist 🙂 I dished this one pot meal up with some garlic borlotti beans and salad.
Aubergine Parmigiana with Grandma Nancy’s special sauce*
Drink with: your favourite red wine
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time for sauce: 4 hours
Cook time for the rest: 20 min
- 1 large aubergine
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- bag of your favourite salad
- your favourite greens
- 8 large tomatoes chopped/in a food processor or 2 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 cup vegetarian/vegan parmesan cheese
- olive oil
- red wine
- balsamic vinegar
- dried basil
- dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
Tip* Make the sauce in advance. Day before is fantastic, 4-5 hours ahead will make it succulent, and minimum an hour in a bind. The sauce itself tastes a lot better after the flavours have been marinating together for a long time. Every time I make this I try to cook it for longer and every time is a subtle difference in flavour which excites the tastebuds.
- Take about 1tbs of your favourite olive oil, warm it up in a medium sized pan, throw in the onions and stir. Once you hear it sizzling a bit, take the heat down and let those bad boys cook down to a rich caramel colour. This normally takes about 15-20 minutes depending on your liking but as an avid onion lover, the more they cook down the better they are. Melt in your mouth goodness.
- As the onions are cooking down, sort out the aubergine! Give it a quick wash and slice lengthwise down one side. The skin sides you will want to use as the base of the aubergine parm, don’t worry about the texture;) You also want the thin slices to have some colour to them so I normally use a mandolin to achieve this by slicing the inside thinly almost like lasagne sheets but half the thickness. Take all of the aubergine slices, pop them on a rack with a paper towel under it (or in a colander) and salt those babies! This gets the evil juices out as my grandmother always used to say. I leave this for at least a half hour but you will see moisture start to form almost instantly.
- Once those onions begin to get some colour pop in the garlic and bay leaves. Give them about 5 minutes to become friendly, don’t want to burn the garlic but don’t want it raw either!
- Sprinkle in roughly 1tbs of each dried herb, mix until everything gets acquainted.
- Put in your tomatoes and wine and mix thoroughly, let it begin to boil, then turn it down and let it simmer for at least an hour, preferably closer to 4-5 hours for that rich flavour that my grandmother’s always had.
- There is potential here for a slow cooker as well if you in the office, just need to brown the onions and then toss everything in and let it go for 6-8 hours or whatever time you need.
This leaves you plenty of time to assemble the rest of the meal, get in a quick workout, catch up on reading, playtime with your pets or children, or a nice soak in the bath 🙂
6. Get the oven up to 200˚C and get a large pan out with a 1tsp olive oil and heat up to medium high
7. Pat down the aubergines so they are nice and dry, sprinkle with some more pepper and salt, drizzle with some olive oil and put all but the ones with the skin on one side into the oven for roughly 10 minutes so they get some colour and flavour.
8. While the middle bits of the aubergine parm is cooking, take the skin side ones and put them skin side down in the pan, let them sizzle and cook. Aubergines risk being too tough, the skin especially, if not cooked down properly so this is how I solve that issue.
9. When the aubergines have some colour, take out your casserole dishes and start layering!
10. Pop on some sauce , then the aubergines with the skin on, more sauce, some ‘cheese’, then repeat until all you have left is aubergine on the top. I like to pop on some breadcrumbs, extra herbs and more cheese and then back into the oven to brown up for 15-20 minutes or until your desired colour.
Cooking this meal always brings me closer to Grandma Nancy, whom I miss everyday, and know she is happy I actually listened to her all those times she told me the recipes. Thank you for all the times we shared*
In the wise words of Grandma Nancy,