I’m a huge fan of Parmigiana. Unfortunately it tends to be viewed as a bit of an old fashioned retro dish, something you would find on pub menus and in mom and pop style Italian restaurants, but done well it can be a spectacular meal. The term “parmigiana” basically refers to a dish where the ingredients are fried and stacked between layers of tomato sauce and cheese before being baked. The most common version is made with eggplant but it’s also popular with either chicken or veal. This is my favourite version as it combines both eggplant and veal. I found this recipe many years ago in an old Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook where it was referred to as veal and eggplant casserole – obviously the term parmigiana at that time would have left most Australians scratching their heads. The original recipe was a little basic so I’ve updated and tweaked it over the years but at the end of the day it’s simply a mixture of good home made tomato sauce (the quality of the sauce makes a big difference to the end product), veal scaloppine which have been crumbed and fried, fried eggplant slices and mozzarella. It’s a bit of a fiddly dish to put together with all the crumbing and frying but you can do it in stages and it helps if you have a batch of home made tomato sauce in the freezer. The effort though is very much worth it. Paying attention to the little details in this classic dish and using quality ingredients will reward you with a truly comforting and delicious meal.
Ingredients – Serves 4-6
6 small thin pieces of veal scaloppine – each one should be about the size of your palm
½ cup of flour or enough to coat the veal
1 large egg, beaten with a little milk
1 cup bread crumbs, you may need a little more or less depending on the size of your veal pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper
Olive oil – not extra virgin
2 medium size eggplants – you need about 12-14 slices
1 cup grated mozzarella
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
For the Tomato Sauce – makes more than you need but freezes well
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely grated
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup red wine
2 x 400gm cans of Italian diced tomatoes
Pinch of chilli flakes
To make the tomato sauce: Place a generous amount of oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt. Cook until soft and translucent. Add the grated carrot and cook until wilted and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the red wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the wine has reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, rinsing each can with a small splash of water, season with salt and the chilli flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered on low heat for 30-45 minutes. By this time the tomatoes will have broken down and the sauce will be reduced, if you want the sauce thicker just cook it for a little longer with the lid off. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
To prepare the veal: Season the veal well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the flour, egg and breadcrumbs into shallow dishes and add the chopped parsley and garlic powder to the bread crumbs, mixing to combine. Crumb the veal by placing a slice in the flour, shaking off any excess. Then place into the egg mixture, again letting the excess drip off. Finally place into the breadcrumbs and press the crumbs well onto both sides of the veal. Repeat with the remaining veal slices. Place a large non stick skillet or frypan over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot add as many veal slices as will fit in a single layer and cook until lightly golden on both sides. Repeat with the remaining veal slices, adding more oil to the pan as you go.
To prepare the eggplant: Slice the eggplant into 1cm rounds. I prefer to leave the skin on. Place them in a colander and sprinkle well with salt. Leave to sit for 30 minutes after which time they will have released some liquid. Pat the eggplant pieces dry with kitchen paper, wiping off as much of the excess salt as possible. Place a large non stick skillet over medium high heat and add a generous amount of olive oil – enough to cover the base of the pan well. When the oil is hot add the eggplant slices and cook until golden brown. You’ll notice that the eggplant will soak up just about all the oil in the pan but resist adding more. When the slices have become nicely brown turn them over and by this stage a little of the oil that the eggplants first soaked in will start to release back into the pan, not much, but enough to let you finish browning the other side. If you really feel that your pan is too dry add oil in small stages, just a tablespoon at a time. Remove the eggplants as they finish browning and rest on a wad of kitchen towels. Add more oil to your pan and repeat the process until all the eggplant slices are browned. It’s important that when you fry the eggplant you really achieve a nice golden colour so take your time and adjust your heat as you go.
To assemble the dish: Preheat the oven to 180C. Spread a few heaped spoons of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an oven proof dish that is not too deep. I used a round 25cm cast iron dish, but any shape will do. Place three of the veal pieces over the tomato sauce and top with a handful of the grated mozzarella. Place enough of the eggplant slices to roughly cover the dish. Repeat with another layer of tomato sauce, veal and eggplant, ending with tomato sauce. Finish the dish off by sprinkling the rest of the mozzarella over the tomato sauce and topping with the grated parmesan. Then using your hands press down firmly but gently, compressing they layers. Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until bubbling and golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.