If someone ever wanted to try and convince me to go vegetarian, they would need to feed me copious quantities of perfectly executed melanzane parmigiana. It is the best veggie dish in the world. However hard I sometimes try to smuggle bits of bacon into otherwise classically veggie stuff, I wouldn’t dare with melanzane. It doesn’t need it, it will actively reject it and be spoiled for a hint of meat. Even if you thought replacing plain tomato sauce with nice ragù was a stroke of genius. It isn’t. It’s a rubbish idea.
Aubergines, like mushrooms, deliver this near-meat experience with their robust texture, bite and chew. But they need to be properly soft so cooking the slices beforehand is a must. I was recently served a truly hideous aubergine bake with the main hero become villain - stringy and tough. Salting the slices beforehand adds value, if only by making you feel you’re creating an involved, elaborate dish.
You might think ‘parmigiana’ owes its name to the inclusion of Parmesan in the recipe or that it originates from Parma, northern Italy. Being contrary by nature though, and always enjoying polysemous words, I prefer to think it’s derived from the southern palmigiana or parmisciana meaning ‘shutters’ and referring to how the aubergine slices are laid in the dish overlapping each other, like shutters’ slats.
Homemade tomato sauce, good quality mozzarella, a handful of Parmesan and you’re in for a feast.