Melanzane Parmigiana (aubergine bake) (vegetarian)
Cheesey, tomato-ey, melty, fragrant with herbs, layered with silky aubergine. Really, really, nice.
This is served as a side dish in Italy, or as part of a starter. I like to eat it as a veggie main course lunch, with some good bread and a green salad. You can make it ahead and heat it up when needed, which makes it very flexible and easy on the cook – always a good sign. Flustered cooks do not a good meal make, I think. It’s also very transportable, you can make it up, cook it, and transport it covered and warm as your contribution to a family meal. Or take it, cooked and kept warm, over to a friend in need, whether she just needs a comforting cuddle and some good food, or leave it on her kitchen table to be dipped into at need when the baby at last goes down to sleep. Please adjust the herbs and spicing, if you are taking it over to a new nursing mother she might not appreciate the garlic!
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main dish for lunch. Timings – 90 minutes, or less if you use a ready made tomato sauce.
Make the tomato sauce: fry the onion gently in some oil in a heavy pan until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the dried oregano and the crushed garlic, fry to release the aromas, then tip in the tin of tomatoes. Add about half a can of water, or red wine if you like the richer flavour. Add the Worcester sauce, marmite and season with salt and pepper. Let the sauce bubble away for 20 minutes while you prepare the aubergine. This is a basic tomato sauce which you can use for pasta bake, for putting onto spaghetti, for using as the base for pizza sauce etc. The possibilities are very nearly endless, and it’s so much cheaper (and better) than buying ready-made sauces.
Wash, top and tail the aubergine and then slice into rounds about the thickness of a pound coin. Fry in a heavy frying pan in oil for about 5 minutes per side – you might have to do this in batches as you shouldn’t crowd one in on top of the other, they all need time to get at the oil. Add more oil as you fry, they do absorb quite a bit. As they turn golden and soft, take them out and drain on kitchen paper.
Pre heat the oven to 200°C. In an oven proof dish, layer up the vegetables, cheese and sauce. Start with a layer of aubergine, then a couple of slices of fresh tomato, then a layer of tomato sauce, dot that with pieces of mozzarella and a sprinkling of cheddar and a few basil leaves. Then the next layer of aubergine and so on. You can be quite generous with the tomato sauce for a looser dish or less generous for a firmer dish, depends what you are after. I like a more sauced dish as a main, or a less sauced one for a side, but it’s up to you.
Finish with a layer of aubergine and sprinkle the parmesan over the top.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until light brown on top and bubbling. The herbs will have released their fragrance and the cheese will have melted into the tomato sauce. If you let it cool down a bit before serving, it will be firmer, and the flavours even more deliciously melded.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.