Do you have an Italian grandmother? Neither do I. My abuelita is Nicaraguan, and she makes fantastic arroz aguado and sopa de frijoles. Oh my goodness, the sopa de frijoles. I’ll tell you about it some time.
But the latest issue of Food & Wine is all about Italian food, Mario Batali is the guest editor (a first for the mag), and Danny’s been into pasta lately. So. I bookmarked several pasta dishes. And then… a picture of what looked like eggplant nachos distracted me long enough to change my direction.
This Grilled Eggplant Parmesan is better than nachos. Charred slices of eggplant and tomato are stacked in layers of cheese. Fontina cheese does the job (or fontal, a younger, creamier version, which is what we used), and green olives, chile pepper, and fresh basil fill in the layers.
Grace Parisi offers this and other recipes in a feature called “The 45-Minute Nonna”. Her nonna is from Calabria, at the sole of Italy’s boot. Parisi updates her grandma’s recipes to make lighter and quicker versions. We’re not breading and frying eggplant here; we’re grilling it on the stove top.
I couldn’t find the exact chiles packed in oil, so we used hot cherry peppers. If you like things a little spicier, feel free to add more chile. Several things about this recipe won me over. It’s straightforward. It’s beautifully arranged into a patterned square with alternating pops of red from the tomato and blackened purple edges of eggplant. The original recipe calls for peeling off the skin of the eggplant. I did not.
There’s only one slight addition I might try for next time: Breadcrumbs. Scooping up the melded-together vegetables and melted cheese is great with crusty bread, but I suspect no one would mind a light layer of crunchy breadcrumbs on top.
We were surprised by just how good this was. This little Southern Italian recipe sounds simple, but you will be so, so glad you made it.
And you should definitely flip through the latest issue of Food & Wine. You may be tempted to skip ahead to the beet gnocchi with walnut-sage butter or squid ink pasta. I recommend starting with humbler fare: the eggplant.
grilled eggplant parmesan
This was created by Food & Wine as a lighter version of one Italian grandmother’s eggplant parmesan, which usually calls for frying the vegetable. Slices of tomato and eggplant are charred in a grill pan and layered with olives, cheese, and fresh basil. It doesn’t get much better.
1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds), sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
4 large plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
1/3 cup chopped green olives
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped oil-packed Calabrian chiles or other hot chiles (fresh chiles work, too)
1/4 cup finely shredded basil, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
6 ounces fontina (or fontal) cheese, thinly sliced
crusty bread, for serving
Heat the oven to 450°F. Heat a grill pan on the stove top over medium-high heat.
Brush the eggplant and tomato slices with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Grill the eggplant in batches in the hot pan until softened and lightly charred, about 2 minutes on each side. Set aside the separate slices on a clean cutting board or cooling rack. Grill the tomatoes until lightly charred, about 1 minute on each side. Set aside on another cutting board.
Combine the olives, chiles, and shredded basil in a small bowl. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In the center, arrange half the eggplant slices so they slightly overlap and form a 9-inch square. Top with half of the tomatoes, olive and chile mixture, and Fontina cheese. Repeat layering with remaining half of the ingredients. Make sure to end with the cheese.
Place in center of the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and golden, about 15 minutes. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve with crusty bread.
Serves 4. Recipe from Food & Wine.