PRETTY SIMPLE PESTO PARMIGIANA

To set the scene for this dish, please type “noot noot, toot toot” into Google Translate and get the little man in the laptop to tell you how it sounds in Italian. Preferably over some loud speakers. I promise you won’t regret it.

Right, that should absolutely lay out the mood: we’re flirting with italian culture here, and any notion of seriousness, authenticity or culinary correctness can be firmly stuffed into cannoli and dipped in taramasalata.

This is a recipe using aubergines for people who don’t like aubergines. Parmigiana, for those of you thus far unenlightened, consists of layers of fried aubergine between a rich tomato sauce, mozzarella, and lashings of a grated hard cheese such as parmesan. It’s then baked, often with breadcrumbs and herbs on top – a little like if lasagne had safe, meat-free sex with moussaka and invited caponata to watch.

The reason aubergine-haters usually like the aubergines in this recipe is because they -the aubergines, not the people – are browned nicely in olive oil, with a good amount of salt, and then covered in cheese. Clearly, then, this dish has no pretences of healthfulness, despite containing two (2) vegetables. And quick survey of the ingredient list will confirm that yes, yet again I am shunning light and floaty dishes in favour of the mind-bogglingly rich and ridiculous. My parmigiana has the addition of pesto, because it was going to go mouldy if I didn’t use it soon. I think this makes up for the lack of fresh basil rather nicely.

This dish can be made mostly in a skillet, and is a great meat-free main to bring hot and bubbling to the table. Choose parmesan made without calf’s rennet if you’re feeding proper vegetarians.

And do scale it up as you see fit – this one serves 2 very greedy people who don’t mind having a just this for dinner. It could easily do as a side for more though, and if you’re not as greedy as Lewis and I, you’ll be able to get some lunch out of it the next day too.

Aubergine parmigiana

You’ll need:

  • Two tins of chopped or plum tomatoes
  • 2 lovely shiny purple aubergines
  • Two balls.
  • Of mozzarella – filthy heathen.
  • A honque of parmesan or similar
  • Some abstract splodges of pesto. I think I used around half a small jar.
  • The smallest pinch of sugar

Salt and olive oil are a given – not included in my ingredient list to keep things simple – but you’ll need plenty of both. If you have a problem with this, I suggest you write to your local MP about housing inequality.

Method:

Make the sauce first, because then it’ll simmer happily while you take the time to fondle the aubergines. There are of course, many different ways to make a tomato sauce, but this is so crude I feel I might be arrested any moment now for suggesting it. Tip both your tins of tomatoes into a small saucepan, and add a big pinch of salt, a little pinch of sugar and a tablespoon of the pesto. If you want to add a splosh of red wine, or some dried oregano, please don’t let me stop you. I’ve avoided onions and garlic here simply because I don’t think it needs it but feel free to disagree, use them, and send me hateful Twitter DMs. Taste everything for seasoning and then keep the sauce on a simmer while you deal with your aubergines.

Oh, and put the oven on to around 190ish.

Slice your aubergines lengthways into half cm thick surfboards and dust a sprinkling of salt over each portion. I like them sliced thinner than most recipes call for, so they absorb more fat and cook faster. Now working in batches, fry the aubergine slices in a hefty amount of olive oil in a 20-23cm skillet or other Ovenable Pan, until they’re browned on both sides. Remove any cooked slices onto a spare plate, and keep adding olive oil to the pan if you feel it’s going a bit dry. By the way, if you don’t have an Ovenable Pan, just use a normal frying pan and we’ll worry about all that in just a tick.

Once you’ve browned all your aubergines, turn the heat off everything. If you don’t have a pan that’s oven-safe (I’ve only just come into possession of one – no shame) find a square cake tin or a small ceramic roasting dish instead. Now layer the aubergine slices with the tomato sauce in the skillet or other chosen receptacle, spaffing pesto, shaved parmesan and torn mozzerella blobs between each layer. Like if Jackson Pollock was working with a caprese salad rather than paint. Top your creation with a final layer of tomato sauce and some parmesan (mozz will burn and go too crispy on top – I mean, if you like that kind of thing go for it but I prefer it all gooey inside only) and bake it in the oven for about 20 minutes or until proper bubbly and lush. Most recipes tell you to wait for it to cool down before serving but I like to give myself minor soft-palate injuries from time to time, just to keep things fresh.

Serve with hot bread. And a salad if you simply can’t handle the richness. Weakling.

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