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Parmigiana or Parm, as adopted and renamed in America, is a dish composed of tomato sauce, cheese and the key/name ingredient fried in breadcrumbs and buried beneath.
The key ingredient, a bit like a lead singer in a band, may change (unless (s)he’s a bully who writes all the songs). Aubergine is the best known one, making what is known as melanzane Parmigiana, aubergine alla parmigiana or eggplant Parm.
(I’m not all that certain about the capitals in the recipe name: the Italians seem to treat ‘parmigiana’ as a common noun. Which makes sense according to the theory that a parmigiana is a dish with components arranged like ‘palmigiana’ - shutters’ slats. Not Parma. Not Parmesan. I kind of prefer that explanation: ‘gotcha! not what you thought!’)
Another frequent lead singer - oops, main ingredient - is chicken, chicken parmesan, chicken parm, leftovers invariably going into sandwiches. Or, as it is the case in Italian sandwich shops - the whole dish made as a sandwich filling.
I believe there’s veal (on drums), waiting to have a go occasionally, but I went for pork, just to see how well it worked. It does, needless to say. My reservations were all blown: pork will be tough? Meltingly tender if you mallet it into behaving. Breadcrumbs will be soggy and/or disintegrate? I didn’t even notice what the breadcrumbs were like - the dish tasted so lovely. I added the aubergine layer to make it lighter - and if truth be told, because I had a scrag end of a pork fillet - but you can go pork full on if you so wish.
- 300g pork fillet (one small or half a larger one), trimmed of fat and membranes
- salt and black pepper
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2-3 tbsp. plain flour
- about 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs
- vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 medium aubergine
- tomato sauce made from 1 tin of tomatoes, recipe here
- 250g mozzarella, sliced or torn
- about 1 cup grated Parmesan
1. Slice the pork fillet into even-sized cutlets, about 2 ½ cm thick - discard the thin end bits and use them in a stir-fry. For two people you ideally want 8 cutlets.
2. Place the cutlets on a chopping board between two sheets of cling film and flatten them with a mallet until really thin - cardboard thickness. Season the pork with salt and pepper.
3. Prepare the flour, the egg and the panko in three shallow dishes. Coat each cutlet in the flour, then dip it in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs. Place the coated meat on a tray lined with paper towels and refrigerate.
4. Cut the aubergine into 8 slices, about 1cm thick. Brush all the slices with oil, heat a large frying pan and fry the aubergines until softened and charred on both sides. Place them on paper towels.
5. Heat more oil (2cm deep) in the same frying pan until a crumb dropped into it sizzles and jumps about. Cook the pork cutlets, in batches if necessary, until gold and crisp on both sides. Transfer them to a paper towel lined dish.
6. Prepare a dish large enough to fit four of the cutlets at the bottom, they may overlap slightly. Spoon some sauce over the bottom and sprinkle a third of the Parmesan. Place half the cutlets on top, followed by half the mozzarella. Top with half the remaining sauce, another third of the Parmesan, aubergine slices, the rest of the pork and the rest of the mozzarella. Top with the remaining sauce and Parmesan.
7. Bake the parmigiana in the oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 40 minutes until crispy and bubbling. Rest for a few minutes before serving with green salad or green vegetables.