Claudia’s Phenomenal Eggplant Parmigiana, Paired With Wines From Sicily and Campania

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Eggplant parmigiana made its way to the U.S. in the late 1800s with the first wave of southern Italian immigrants. Many of these enterprising newcomers opened restaurants with Americanized versions of the flavors they had loved back in the “old country” and the dish, along with other classics like spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna and pizza, became staples of Italian American cuisine in the US.

My neighbor Claudia happens to make a delicious eggplant parmigiana which, as she says, is a “light version” using smoked mozzarella and a quick tomato sauce with 4 or 5 cloves of garlic; no wonder it’s so good!

The first time I was lucky enough to try it, I was really hungry, and after wolfing it down, I said to my husband, “That was the best meal I’ve ever eaten!” Exaggeration? Maybe slightly, but not really; the heady combination of sweet tomatoes, smoky melted cheese and soft and creamy eggplant, along with my hunger was “phenomenal” as I said to Claudia.

I especially like her recipe for three reasons, all of which contribute to a lighter (but no less flavorful) style of the dish.

  • The eggplant is slow-roasted in the oven (not breaded and fried) before being assembled and baked. It simply gives the dish pure eggplant flavor without any of the heaviness from breading.

  • The use of a marinara sauce, with only tomatoes, onion, garlic and olive oil, instead of a meaty, ragout sauce. As Claudia says, “The sauce is kind of messy and wet, but I kind of like it that way.”

  • The addition of fresh smoked mozzarella adds adds a unique outdoorsy, smoky note—like it had been cooked over a fire pit.

The word Parmagiana in a recipe didn’t always mean a dish that is made or covered with Parmesan cheese. In the 15th and 16th centuries, cooking “Parmigiana style” referred to the practice of layering vegetables in casseroles.

And while the word parmigiana means "from Parma" (in Northern Italy), the dish isn’t a part of Parma food. Most historians believe that the dish was first brought to Sicily by the Arabs in the ninth century, and traveled to Naples soon thereafter; many people believe the dish’s name comes from the Sicilian word palmigiana, or shutters—a reference to the palm-thatched roofs that the eggplant slices resemble.

Recipe: The Best Eggplant Parmigiana You’ll Ever Taste

3 medium-sized eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1” slices

Salt and pepper to season eggplant

5 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

2  28-ounce cans of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes (“Make sure the tomatoes are not ‘San Marzano style,’” says Claudia. “And it has to say D.O.P. on the label because those are the only ones that are certified, and from the best region of southern Italy, near Pompeii.” She also says to use whole tomatoes, not diced as the diced have citric acid in them which changes the taste and not for the better. Her favorite brand is Pastene, but Cento will do in a pinch).

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 - 1 & 1/2 cups (8 - 12 ounces) smoked mozzarella, thinly sliced

1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

20 - 25 large fresh basil leaves, torn

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Cover a large baking sheet with foil and rub 1/2 teaspoon olive oil on the foil. Place eggplant in a single layer on baking sheet; drizzle eggplant on both sides with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle both sides of eggplant slices with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes. When done, remove from oven and set aside.

2) While eggplant is roasting, make tomato sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally at a low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another minutes. Stir in tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano and simmer, partially covered, about 15 minutes. Remove cover and crush any large clumps of tomatoes with a spatula or potato masher. Add a drop more oil to sauce. Cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

3) Layer sauce, eggplant rounds, cheeses and basil in casserole dish: Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place half of the eggplant rounds in a single layer on top of the sauce. Layer half of the sliced mozzarella on top of the eggplant rounds. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and half of the basil on top. Add half of the remaining sauce to cover eggplant, cheese, and basil. Add the remaining eggplant in a single layer. Top with the remaining cheeses (leave a little Parmesan aside to sprinkle on the top) and basil. Cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan and cook, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting to serve. Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve with pasta or crusty garlic bread.

Tip: As Eggplant Parmigiana is even better the next day, a good idea is to let it cool completely and refrigerate overnight; gently re-heat in a 250 degree oven the next day.

Wine Pairing


Here are two red wines and two whites that would go beautifully with the eggplant dish, the reds from Sicily, and the whites from Campania, home of the vibrant city of Naples.

Di Giovanna Nero d’Avola Vurría 2019. If left on the vine too long, Nero d’Avola grapes can produce heavy, overly fruity, even jammy, wines. Not this wine. The wine is medium-bodied with an uplifting acidity and silky tannins. Well-balanced fruit notes are tempered by notes of tobacco, delicate licorice and clove.

Girolamo Russo ‘a Rina Etna Rosso 2017. Made from a 94/6% blend of organic Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, this stunning wine is light on the palate but deep on flavor: plum, cherry, raspberries, earth, tobacco. A delightful wine with plenty of acidity.

Marisa Cuomo Furore Costa d’Amalfi Bianco 2017. I’ve loved the wines from this producer since my first taste nearly ten years ago. The spectacular vineyards overlook the beautiful Amalfi Coast and benefit from cooling breezes. This white is a 60/40 blend of Falanghina and Blancolella, and shows strong citrus notes rounded out by peach, apricot and honey. An excellent pairing with tomatoes.

Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino 2019. The Mastroberardino family has been farming grapes in Campania since the mid-1700s; today it is the most influential winery in the region. Known for championing local grape varieties, their Fiano is slightly nutty and textured with lemon and grapefruit notes as well as floral, honey and tropical fruit flavors (think pineapple). A delight at the table!


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