Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Rich, decadent eggplant layered with a fragrant tomato sauce, topped with golden cheese. What’s not to love? This is Italian home cooking at its best.

A perfect make-ahead or potluck dish, this requires very few ingredients to create something quite special. Similar to a lasagne, it’s relatively labour-intensive, as you need to first cook the sliced eggplant and sauce and then assemble and bake.


  • Eggplants (three or four large ones, depending on the size of your baking dish)
  • Garlic
  • Tomato (tinned or fresh)
  • Tomato paste
  • Olive oil
  • Basil
  • Parmesan
  • Mozzarella or fior di latte (optional)
  • Chilli (optional)


First, thinly slice your eggplants lengthways. You are going to be first pre-cooking these, then layering them with cheese and tomato sauce before baking the entire dish. You want the slices quite thin – nearly as thin as possible, about 0.5-1 cm. Use a mandolin, if you have one, to make this part easier.

You now have an important choice to make. Deep fry, pan fry or bake? That’s in order from most to least traditional and most to least troublesome. The most common way this dish is made in Italy is to deep fry the thin eggplant slices. This, of course, will give you the richest, most delicious result… at the cost of clean-up and calories. Pan-frying is fine, but you still have to work in batches, which can be time consuming.

My favourite method is to simply brush each side of each slice of eggplant with good quality olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and then spread them out over several large baking sheets and put them in a 200C oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. The oil on them is important – if you skip it, the eggplants will dry out.

While your eggplants are frying or baking, put a diced clove of garlic and the chilli – if using – into a pan on medium heat with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add tomato puree, cook briefly and add finely diced fresh tomatoes or tinned tomato. Because this dish has lots of layers, you want quite a smooth sauce that won’t cause many lumps, so if you’re using tinned diced or whole tomatoes make sure you break them down. Simmer to reduce for 15 minutes, then taste and adjust with salt, sugar or red wine vinegar as necessary.

If you particularly love basil, put a few leaves in the tomato sauce while it’s simmering. If you’ve got mozzarella, dice it as finely as you can – you’re going to be spreading it between layers of eggplant.

It’s assembly time: get a large baking dish and start by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce over the base. Then, place down layers of cooked eggplant, tomato sauce and a few cubes of mozzarella, repeating until all ingredients are used up. You want to finish with tomato sauce, mozzarella and then a layer of parmesan that will brown nicely in the oven.

Put the entire dish in a 180C oven for 40 minutes or until golden-brown. Tear basil leaves over the dish as a garnish. Enjoy.

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