“It’s true that everyone loves the dishes their mothers made for them when they were growing up, but I can honestly say that my mother’s melanzane alla parmigiana was the best ever,” writes presenter and chef Gino D’Acampo in his new book, Gino’s Italian Family Adventure.
“Even though I make it exactly like she showed me, it’s still not the same… Or maybe it is and it’s just the memories I have that made hers so special. Normally, I make this with canned chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and Parmesan, but I wanted to give this version a little kick with pecorino cheese and chilli. Feel free to add a bit more chilli oil if you like the heat, or you can substitute the pecorino with Grana Padano.”
Gino D’Acampo’s spicy aubergine bake with mozzarella and pecorino cheese
6 large aubergines (about 2kg in total)
150g plain flour
300ml olive oil
350g grated mozzarella cheese
150g finely grated pecorino cheese
Sea salt flakes
For the sauce:
4tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1.4L tomato passata
4tbsp chilli oil, or to taste
20 basil leaves
250g mascarpone cheese
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Slice the aubergines lengthways into slices about 2.5mm thick. Place in a sieve, sprinkle over some sea salt flakes and leave over the sink for one hour to allow any excess liquid to drain from the aubergines. We use salt flakes here to draw out the moisture, as fine salt would be absorbed into the aubergines.
2. In the meantime, to prepare the sauce, place the four tablespoons of olive oil and the onion in a large shallow saucepan and fry over a medium heat for eight minutes, occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon. Pour in the passata and chilli oil, then add the basil, one and a half teaspoons of fine salt and one teaspoon of pepper and stir for two minutes.
3. Add the mascarpone, stir to combine all the ingredients, then reduce the heat slightly and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Taste: this is the time to add in a bit more chilli oil if you want a stronger kick. Set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/Gas 4.
5. Put the aubergine slices on to some kitchen paper and pat dry. Place the eggs, one teaspoon fine salt and half a teaspoon of pepper into a medium bowl and beat well. Pour the flour on to a medium flat tray. Dip each aubergine slice into the flour and then into the egg to coat all over. Heat 10 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large frying pan and fry the aubergine slices until golden on both sides, about two minutes each side. You will need to work in batches. (Depending on the size of your frying pan, it should take about six batches.)
7. Transfer the slices on to kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil. After three batches have been browned, add the remaining olive oil to your frying pan and heat until very hot. Continue to fry the remaining aubergine slices, again transferring them on to kitchen paper to drain the excess oil.
8. Layer one-third of the aubergine in a rectangular oven dish, measuring about 30 x 25cm. Spoon three ladles of the tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle over 100g mozzarella and 50g pecorino. Repeat the process twice more. You’ll have a little more than three ladles left of the tomato sauce and 50g mozzarella to make a last layer; this extra sauce on top is absorbed through the dish while it cooks and keeps it extra moist.
9. Sprinkle over a pinch of pepper and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil from the oven dish and continue to bake for a further 30 minutes.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about five minutes before portioning. Serve with some crusty ciabatta bread and salad. Just like mamma used to make.
Gino’s Italian Family Adventure: Easy Recipes the Whole Family will Love by Gino D’Acampo, is published by Bloomsbury. Photography Haarala Hamilton. Available now.