Parmigiana di melanzane is a “classic” of the Italian traditional food and among the dishes
most imitated in the world. However there are still different opinions regarding the region
where the popular recipe comes from.
The word “parmigiana” in Italian means literally “from Parma” and this is just one of the
reasons why Emilia Romagna is between the regions claiming the paternity of this dish.
Moreover, the use of parmesan in the recipe makes think about the same region of the great
cheese but, when parmigiana di melanzane was created, it didn’t exist in Emilia Romagna
The first evidence of parmigiana di melanzane dates back in 1733 when Vincenzo Corrado, a
Puglian chef who was working in Naples, included in his book a recipe that reminds the
famous dish. Although among the ingredients there were no aubergines, replaced by zucchini,
the book has motivated people from Campania to believe that parmigiana di melanzane was
created in their region. To strengthen this hypothesis there is a book of Napolitan recipes
written by Ippolito Cavalcanti in 1839 called “Cusina casarinola co la lengua napolitana”.
The writer, in the book, explains a method that is very close to the current one (including
aubergines) within the exception of Parmesan which was not popular yet in Campania at that
Despite the real facts and the very similar recipe, parmigiana di melanzane could have
probably older roots thus would be useful to look at the issue from a different perspective.
Aubergines are originally from India and arrived in Italy in the XV century thanks to the
Arabs. According to that route, it is easier to think that aubergines were available first in
Sicily than in other regions. Additionally, taking for granted that aubergines arrived in Italy in
the XV century, the facts from Campania and the theory related to the parmesan in Emilia
Romagna would be unrealistic.
Another point that makes Sicily the most likely region to have created parmigiana di
melanzane is the name itself. In fact “parmiciana” in Sicilian slang corresponds to the
wooden slats of a shutter which overlap each other just like the layers that distinguish
parmigiana di melanzane.
The various versions on the origin of parmigiana di melanzane have implied uncertainty
about the official recipe and has led to different opinions also regarding the ingredients or the
ways of cooking. Some people prefer don’t fry the aubergines and just grill it; others replace
mozzarella with other kinds of cheeses like provola; someone else adds ingredients such as
eggs, mortadella, sausage etc.. Although there are plenty of different versions the following
one is considered to be the classic from most of the Italians.
Firstly, to make a tomato sauce it is needed only onion, oil, basil and passata. The aubergines
have to be cut (0.4;0.5 mm thick) and placed in a tray with salt and pressed by some weight
for at least an hour to release the bitterness. Then, once are dried, the aubergines have to be
passed in the flour and fried until are crunchy but not burned. Afterwards, has to be put a
little bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a tray proceeding with the first layer of aubergines
covered by sliced mozzarella, grated parmesan and tomato sauce. According to the personal
preference, more layers can be added and the food is ready to go in the oven at 180 degrees
for 30 minutes.
The result is an explosion of flavours and textures due to the intense taste of the ingredients
and the different cooking methods. The presence of tomato, mozzarella and fried aubergines
can make this dish quite difficult to pair with wine but, generally speaking, something fresh
and fruity will work.
For instance, Frappato 2018 Sicilia Doc by Planeta is light in alcohol as well as very fresh
and fruity because of the short vinification period in stainless steel tanks. Hence this light
bodied wine matches the savoury taste of parmigiana di melanzane without overwhelming it
but rather lifting its powerful flavour by crisp acidity. The low tannins, the moderate alcohol
and the fresh red cherries aroma express a very delicate mouth feeling that can’t clash with
the food and leaves on the palate a pleasant long fruity finish.
Overall parmigiana di melanzane, disregarding from the origin , has a unique powerful taste
that can’t divide but rather has to bring people together at the dining table. In fact, aubergine
is the king of the dish and represents the common ingredient among the Mediterranean
countries. Mozzarella, tomato and basil celebrate Italy as a country not only for being
representative elements of that cuisine but also because all together gather the colour of the
Author: Riccardo Pepi