Melanzane alla Parmigiana is definitely in my top 3 of Italian dishes: perfect comfort food. However, it’s a deceivingly simple recipe that is hard to nail.
I pretty much always try it if it is on the menu of an Italian restaurant: often somewhat disappointing or with some added non-traditional ingredients (like breaded chicken or veal or prosciutto cotto). In all honesty: an average “parm” is still pretty darn good as long as the eggplant is properly cooked. This one is based on a recipe from Serious Eats and has an interesting take on cooking the eggplant by first compressing it in the microwave before frying it.
What worked and what didn’t:
The parm from the recipe is an all-American version so involves the sliced eggplant first being dipped in beaten eggs and dredged in breadcrumbs before frying. I tried the (slightly) healthier version by just shallow frying the compressed eggplant. Speaking of that: the compression totally worked. No leathery slabs of eggplant and nor did it absorb much oil when frying. The tomato sauce was good, not exceptional though as it was quite sharp, but had a very smooth texture as the onion is just halved and simmers in the sauce and removed in its entirety when ready.
Do try to use the flattest plates you have for to most even result and you should definitely increase the time of the first compression cycle in the microwave; the process is accelerated later on when the plates are already hot. Also note that you definitely need a full roll of paper kitchen towels at hand for microwaving, compressing and frying all the eggplant slices…
The recipe is accurate, but to me it was not entirely clear on the use of the paper kitchen towels to cover the eggplant while compressing it with the 3rd plate. To me it seems that all layers of eggplant should be covered on both sides and not in direct contact with the plates.
I think the sauce could use a splash of cream or ricotta to bind (see watery edges on the photo) and take off the sharpness. Some more oregano or fresh basil can be added as well to give the sauce some more depth.
Normally, I use a contact grill to prepare the eggplant. Definitely a more healthy option as you only need about 2 tablespoons to grill 2 eggplants and as it heats from both top and bottom, it’s very quick and it gives a nice charring. There is already some compression if you slice the eggplant evenly and therefore does soak up some of the tomato sauce without getting leathery.
Verdict: 8/10; The compression method from Seriously Eats is a very nice alternative, but I think it’s more suitable for the breaded and fried eggplant versions. Will definitely be made again like that.