August 9th, 2012
04:45 PM ET
I thought I knew how to make eggplant Parmesan (or ParmiGIANa if you're feeling especially Italian). Eggplant, a little breading, sauce, cheese – what can go wrong with that?
Then I met Chiara Lima. She's the bubbly Italian woman who taught the best way to make this traditional Italian favorite at Mamma Agata's Italian cooking class I recently took in Ravello, Italy.
Mamma Agata has dazzled celebrities with her cooking for years. It's Chiara who marketed her fantastic recipes by putting them into their latest cookbook, "Simple and Genuine" and also leads the day-long cooking classes.
The mother and daughter are a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. Mamma Agata cooks furiously while Chiara explains what she's doing, prepares the next step in the recipe. It’s the definition of a tag team.
My whirlwind experience began with Chiara helping me realize the mistakes I make when cooking with eggplant. For example, I had no idea what to look for when choosing one of these plump, purple veggies. Those huge, smooth ones on sale at Kroger for a buck looked just fine to me, but the skinny Japanese eggplants actually work best.
I also forget to salt the eggplant. It removes the moisture, makes it less bitter and adds crispness - something my former eggplant parm often lacked.
And bread crumbs? Wrong again! The secret to Mamma Agata’s light and crispy slices of eggplant is a coating of 00 farina flour before frying.
To those of you who have languished in the mushy eggplant darkness, I invite you to try Mamma Agata's Parmigiana di Melanzane recipe and dare you not to fall in love. Oh, and a couple of bottles of wine like the heavenly concoction produced by Chiara's husband, Gennaro, wouldn't hurt.
Parmigiana di Melanzane (from Mamma Agata’s ‘Simple and Genuine’ Cook Book)
8 eggplants (long, thin and firm, such as Japanese eggplants)
Mamma Agata’s Secrets:
The type of eggplant that Mamma Agata uses is very important in this recipe. The eggplant needs to be long, thin and firm; Japanese eggplants work well. Ultimately, the shape, firmness and (low) water content is critical to the success of a good Eggplant Parmigiana. Less water in the eggplant means more flavor in your dish and not soggy eggplant Parmigiana!
Buy fresh mozzarella cheese (in water). Two days before making your eggplant Parmigiana, remove the cheese from the water and place in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to dry out. Otherwise, all of the water contained in the mozzarella will leak into your eggplant and you will have a soggy eggplant Parmigiana.
Preparation of the eggplant:
Wash the eggplant and remove the top and end of each eggplant. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin of the eggplant lengthwise (i.e. along the length of the eggplant) in stripes, like a zebra, keeping some of the skin on the eggplant to preserve the essential vitamins and flavor of the eggplant.
Once the eggplant is peeled, slice it lengthwise into long pieces about 1/2 inch thick. Do not slice too thin, as it will reduce in size during cooking.
Layer the eggplant slices around the edge of a colander/strainer; sprinkle each slice of eggplant with a pinch of sea salt. Allow the salted eggplant to sit for thirty minutes, to assist in draining out excess water and removing the bitter taste from the eggplant.
After thirty minutes, gently squeeze out excess water from the eggplant slices, 3-4 slices of eggplant at a time, starting from the top of the slices to the bottom. Do not rinse off the salt, as eggplants are like sponges and will absorb the water.
Place the flour on a plate. Dip each slice of eggplant into the flour to cover on both sides. Work quickly, as you do not want the eggplant to absorb too much flour or they will become too soggy to fry.
Frying the eggplant:
Using a deep frying pan, pour in at least a quart of oil, leaving one inch from the top. Do not overfill the frying pan with ingredients. The oil should be very hot, at least 374 degrees Fahrenheit.
Test to see if the oil is hot enough by placing a small potion of the ingredients in the oil. They should float to the top and start to bubble. Seed oils are the best for frying because they have a high burning point. Peanut and vegetable oils are great.
Fry the eggplant slices until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place them onto a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
Preparing the eggplant Parmigiana:
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Gather the ingredients, including the tomato sauce, mozzarella and provolone cheeses, grated Parmigiano cheese, and slices of eggplant.
Now, begin to layer your eggplant Parmigiana in a baking dish as follows:
Tomato sauce (use SPARINGLY – too much will make it soggy)
Repeat this process twice, creating three layers in total. The top layer may be higher than the baking dish when it is ready for the oven.
NOTE: The third layer is the top layer and should only include Mamma Agata’s Tomato Sauce and Parmigiano cheese, without mozzarella and provolone cheese. Also, place a cookie sheet or aluminum foil on the rack below your baking dish, as this dish tends to leak out or spill over when baking.
Bake the eggplant Parmigiana in the pre-heated oven for about one hour. After one hour, turn off the heat in the oven, leaving the dish in there for an additional ten minutes with the oven door slightly open. Then, remove the Eggplant from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for at least 40 minutes before serving.
Mamma Agata’s Tomato Sauce
1 quart of vine-ripened Roma tomatoes (pureed)
Add the olive oil, garlic and basil to a large saucepan. NOTE: Do this at the same time and do NOT heat the oil first.
Heat the ingredients over a high flame to release the natural oils contained in the fresh garlic, enhancing the flavors of the tomato sauce. Be careful not to allowe the garlic to burn or smoke. The garlic and oil should be on high flame for one to two minutes.
When the temperature of the oil begins to rise, add the tomato puree and fresh vine-ripened cherry tomatoes to the pan.
Cook the sauce, first over a high flame just until the sauce begins to boil. Then, lower the flame to simmer the sauce for a total of thirty minutes (including the time it took to bring it to a boil.)
Do you have a special method for making eggplant parm, or think your recipe is better? We want in on that. Show off your expertise in the comments below and we may feature your tip in an upcoming feature.
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This is they BEST eggplant parmesian I have probably ever had. I made this for Thanksgiving yesterday, and one of the guests said, he didn't like eggplant – but he loved this! The detail and care of this recipe are impressive. It really is perfected. THANK YOU!!
Yay, so glad to see Chiara, Mamma & Gennaro getting much deserved praise! My friends & I spent a truly magical day with this wonderful family back in April. Hands down, the best day of our visit to the Amalfi Coast! The eggplant parm was DELISH!!!!!! SO looking forward to my next visit to Mamma Agata's! Thanks for the posting Julie.
I love eggplant......it can be cooked in so many different ways. I learned how to cook Italian food from friends In South Philly and, like most ethnic foods, there are as many recipes as there are Moms and Grandmas. I now live in a very, very Italian neighborhood in Bronx, NY and they don't even sell those Japanese eggplants in the market, for one thing they are was to expensive!
While this recipe may be wonderful the instructions leave something to be desired. Unless you want to burn your house down NEVER, NEVER fill a pan with oil to within one inch to the rim! This is very dangerous. Also, you do not need more than an inch of oil to fry the eggplant. Using a quart is very wasteful!
If you use ricotta that makes it lasagna, which is delicious. Instead of breading the slices just put then on a griddle and for a minute or two to soften and then use instead of lasagna noodles.....delicious!
What, no onions in the sauce!
My family's sauce has onions sauteed in olive oil, then add the garlic, fresh basil salt spices and herbs.
I would like to comment on the wonderful experience my family had at the MAMA AGATA home in Ravello. There were three generations represented that evening and what a great way to experience the food and hospitality offered by the ever cheerful Chiara and her husband Gennaro.Their signature eggplant parm paired with the wine tastings made for an evening to remember.Our whole family wishes them well and would encourage anyone with a passion for food,wine and beautiful surroundings to make their home a must-see when in Southern Italy.
My husband and I had the pleasure of cooking, or should I really say eating with Chiara and Mamma in May. It was fabulous. Before going, my husband said "I'm not eating the eggplant!". I said, "you have to a least try", after one bite, he loves it, at least he loves Mamma's!!! Well worth the monry, a fabulous day!!!!
My husband &I visited Chicra andMaMa in May this year. This family is precious and the real deal! Since coming home with her wonderful cook book we have impressed friends and family with her recipies. Hope to someday make it back again. Was truly the best day of our month in Italy!
Thanks for the memory, Judy
Thank you so much for the post Julie! As a person fortunate enough to have experienced, first hand, this dish prepared by Mamma Agata and Chiara, I can attest, it is supremely delicious and like no other!
We've been to many cooking classes in France, Italy, China, etc. This is the most fun experience of all !
It will be a high point of any visit to Italy. A "Don't miss !"
My husband and I visited Mamma, Chiara and Gennero earlier this summer! We agree the eggplant and all of the tips that they offer are right on and make the parmigiana and roll-ups amazing! I am a lemon lover and the lemon cake that begins and ends the day is amazing! The OO farina flour and baking powder can be purchased from Amazon and make a big difference in the result! They are warm, talented, and enthusiastic! Don't miss a visit to their home and class if you're on the Amalfi Coast!
Love the posting, Julie! I have been visiting Ravello, Chiara and her family for 12 years now...loving it so much, I opened my own company Delectable Destinations, doing culinary trips to Amalfi Coast. No doubt, one of the highlights of the week is the cooking day at Mamma Agata's and the delicious Eggplant Parmigiana, a favourite of mine and my clients. I just posted on my blog, a wonderful story about a Day of Cooking at the Agata Family. Hope you all enjoy!
Love the posting Julie! As I have been going to Ravello, to Chiara and her family for 12 years now, my love for the area, the family and all their food was so great...I opened my own company organizing culinary trips to the Amalfi Coast and of course, the main attraction is the cooking day at Mamma Agata's and the Eggplant Parmigiana is no doubt a true favourite of mine and clients.
Thought you and others might enjoy my latest posting on my blog....A day spent with the Agata Family, a true Amalfi Coast Experience
Cant wait for my eggplants to ripen in the garden. Trying a smaller, lilac/white version. Supposed to be really tasty. This dish sounds good. I so enjoyed the eggplant-based pasta (alla Norma) I ate so much of last time I visited Sicily.
can I use pasta flour?
Use cake flour. It's basically the same as 00 and works wonderfully. We visited Mama Agata's in 2008 and this was the highlight of our trip.
can you use pasta flour?
"Do not rinse off the salt, as eggplants are like sponges and will absorb the water."
Um... no, actually most eggplant (aubergine) will not soak up much water. I routinely let my eggplant sit in a bowl of salted water for 30 minutes to leach out the tannic acid and the eggplant absorbs hardly any water. Oil, on the other hand, they will soak up like a paper towel.
Also, get away from the big black-purple eggplants. Look for the small white ones. Way better and more flavor. The big black-purple ones taste like bitter bread.
And now I'm hungry!! Sounds yummy!
The best Eggplant Parmesan always require copious amount of oil to come out right. The Eggplant is a sponge and will absorb all the oil into where there used to be water. You can saute or bake the eggplant instead, it just won't be the same though.
There has to be a balance between flavour and health.So much oil !!!!Everyone knows deep fried food is very tasty but very unhealthy too.I just cover a hot pan with oil and then remove the oil,Then fry the eggplants in residual oil.But I would like to try with a few new touches,like using Japanese Aubergines instead of the big purple ones,coating with 00 flour(might have to use a litte more oil??),even make the sauce the way it says in the reciipe.See how it turns out.Thank you for the post though.This is my favourite dish and would like to cook it in different,flavoursome ways.
I add pepperoni between each layer. OUT OF THIS WORLD!
I have a much quicker way and get tasty individual eggplant parmesans instead of a casserole. I use the large eggplants, peel and cut into 1/2" round slices. Salt each side and place on wire rack for 15 minutes, dab water being released with dry paper towel. Dip slices in all purpose flour and fry in medium hot skillet until browned on both sides and eggplants have softened. Place on paper towel to absorb oil and continue cooking remaining slices. I cover a huge cookie tray with aluminum foil, then place drained slices in a single layer on tray. Spoon a small amount of bottled spaghetti sauce on each, fresh basil or other herbs are optional, and top with a slice of provolone cheese. Pop tray in 350 degree oven until cheese has melted and/or browned slightly. Yummy and are great reheated in the microwave for a snack. I also have added pepperoni, chicken, onion, mushrooms. Italian spice mix, or any combination of your favorite pizza toppings before adding the cheese, which become delicious individual pizzas. Try these once and you will give up the casserole style. Kids can have fun choosing their own pizzas toppings too, and it's a good way to get them to eat eggplant. Enjoy.
I like my eggplant with breadcrumbs coating also that gets it crispy and with great sauce and cheese yummy. I've been making it forever
my friends mom taught me to put a thin layer of ricotta too. A whole other dimension. Wonderful!
Here's the secret to perfecting eggplant parmesan: practice
Mamma Agatta Eggplant???? FUGGET ABOWT IT!!! This is the real deal: David... from NEW YOWRK!!
Hehe post an italian recipe and title it "the best" and your going to get an italian reunion with every italian plugging their recipe and adding tips! I love my heritage i truly do! Im going to make eggplant parmegiana sunday and ill be using my familys recipe..could you imagine using another familys recipe let alone posting it online for everyone to use? Wow! Good day everyone.
6-8 hours prep time..yeah right..and in my spare time I'll make the cheese for the whole process. I like to cook, but this is a dish best left to the professionals.
Too time consuming for me.............
for a lighter marinara sauce, follow Mama Agata's directions, BUT after adding the tomatoe puree and the cherry tomatoes, add 1 cup of yellow summer squash which you have boiled in water and blended to the consistency of soup. This sqash lightens the color of the tomatoes just a bit and makes the sauce less heavy. The taste is wonderful.
Eggplant is like our resident Zchef: snotty and unappealing.
While the instructions to dash salt and let sit for 30 mins can be done, it's NOT the way to make the best eggplant. You cut the eggplant into thin slices, place them on plates with towels, repeat, stacking them until it's high enough to place something heavy on top. You let this sit for a few hours until the acidic juice has flowed out.
You can use any variety of eggplant if you use a MALE eggplant. The bottom hole will be elongated vs round. Females have too many seeds.
You do use olive oil or a mixture of canola and olive. This along with the pressing method above make the eggplant so tender (far from soggy) that you don't have to peel. It seems weird, but i never peel my eggplant and I get a bunch of compliments on how tender the skins. You don't even notice you are eating them!
This dish makes a day to make, but it's the most amazing dish ever.
I was all over this until I saw the deep oil frying of the eggplant. Wish there was a way to oven roast the eggplant slices instead of fry, b/c my body doesn't need all that zaftig-creating oil..... sigh....
Check out MCRs post.
I make a mean eggplant parmesan with no oil. Instead of fying, place on cookie sheets in a convection oven until brown and crisp. It comes out dryer than fried, but just add more sauce to compensate. Everybody loves it!
I recently dipped my eggplant in egg wash, then coated with panko, and cooked in the oven. It was really good in the Eggplant Parmesan!!
Try grilling eggplant slices instead of frying. Works and tastes great.
"The secret to Mamma Agata’s light and crispy slices of eggplant is a coating of 00 farina flour before frying."
Uh, sorry, but this is NO secret to real Italians.
What I meant to say is that this is not her personal secret
I wish I had the time it takes to do it this way. But since I don't I've developed a quick and easy method...
I tend to not bread the eggplant, but simply layer Eggplant, Sauce, Cheese, repeat. Cook 1 hour covered at 375, 45 minutes uncovered. Less than 10 minutes prep time, which works with my busy lifestyle, and my dinner guests love it!
I believe Don Vito's at Southpoint in Las Vegas is the Best I have ever eaten. He uses ricotta and his secret Alfredo Sauce in the mix of layers. It's incredible. It's how I make mine at home in NC. You need to try it !!!
Can't wait to make Mama Agata's.
Alfredo sauce? That is just a flavor that buries what it is suppose to taste like. Sorry, but that dish is not really eggplant parmigiana from the old Country.
The real deal takes at least 6-8 hours to prepare, and I have a long generation recipe that does not even come close to anything served i the World. I challenge all the greatest Italian chefs in the world to compete against my eggplant recipe. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a challenge, and nobody in the World can come close to my family recipe from Italy dating back in history before all of us were were born. This is a dish that requires the hardest work in the World. Challenge me if you think you can, and this goes for anything that any Iron Chef thinks they can deliver such as Booby Flay. None if you have really experience the best Eggplant Parmigiana in the World.
What nobody realizes is that eggplant parmigiana is really the most difficult dish in Italian cuisine to prepare, and it is not best served coming out of the oven after 6 hours to prepare. There is nothing better or greater to serve in the world than it being served the next day cold on bread and by itself. Nobody in America or even in Italy has really had a chance the best that be served, and it is an art to perfect with many years of experience.
That does sound REALLY good.
I spit on your familie's recipe!
I can't stop laughing at this comment, you have made my day.
Haha. Yeah, bah-fungoo.......on this challenge!
Will you give out your recipe then?
Do the garlic cloves stay intact in the sauce?
The sauce is the first thing you prepare, and use all the garlic you want. The sauce itself is a process that is really simple with few ingredients, and do not use any spices.
Why is CNN holding my comment of eggplant sauce in moderation review to help somebody?
Because Zaccaglini you sound like a pompous a**hole !
Do you leave the whole garlic cloves in the sauce... as is? Also, there is reference to "2 layers in one" regarding the eggplant. What does this mean? This recipe looks great. I've been looking for a better recipe for eggplant parm and will try this over the weekend. Thanks!
Two layers means you will repeat the overall layering pattern twice in a standard depth baking dish. So tomato sauce, eggplant, cheeses, tomato sauce, eggplant, cheeses, done!
Yes, you leave the garlic cloves in the sauce but you do NOT put them in the dish. Use a large serving spoon and press the sauce down to get juice out of the cherry tomatoes and use just the sauce that pools into the spoon. The garlic and cherry tomatoes will be at the bottom of the pan.
And the "two layers in one" means to just pile the eggplant fairly high so it's ALMOST two layers. Enjoy!
pretentious clowns, my eggplant parmesan is already killer.
I doubt it.
Good for you and no I did not vote for your sorry azz.
The town on the Amalfi coast is called Ravello not Rovello
My mom made her special eggplant for years and the trick is to use the proper of the male / female eggplants...bet you did not know that eggplants had male and female varieties....
You really have no idea.
I have been craving this dish all week after having a disappointing version of it at a new "Italian" restaurant in town. What I got was a bowl of melted cheese....for $22. This looks terrific, especially the sauce.
You will never have eggplant served even in the most expensive Italian restaurants up to par because it really is too expensive and time consuming.
this is QUALITY!
OMG! Thank you soooooooo much for this recipe! I can't wait to use it! I can tell just by reading that it is going to be my new BIG HIT with my friends! What a wonderful article. I'm going to stay tuned into you! Thanks again! Ciao Chica!