|A scene at Ravello, Amalfi Coast: Bella Italia|
Photo By Frank Rubino
|Shutters, or Parmiciana, in Italy|
Photo by Frank Rubino
YOU SAY PARMIGIANA, I SAY PARMICIANA
I did a bit of research on Parmigiana dishes as very little Parmigiana cheese, if any, is used as an ingredient. According to the always useful Wikipedia, Parmigiana recipes are Southern Italian in origin, and refer to any dish made with a thin-sliced and fried filling, layered with cheese, usually mozzarella, and tomato sauce. In Italy, Parmigiana is chiefly made with eggplant. The meat-based dishes are an Italian-American creation.
Although the word Parmigiana usually means "from Parma," which is in northern Italy, the word is thought to be taken from the Sicilian dialect word for shutters, parmiciana, which refers to the slats of wood, which overlap in the same way as the sliced filling in the dish. That is typical of Italians (or Sicilians, in this case), comparing food to common objects. Just think of how pasta is imaginatively named: radiatore, little radiators; orrichiette, little ears; or conchiglie, shells. According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta De Vita, some small pastas are even named after prayers, such as the Ave Maria (Hail Mary), referring to the common practice of reciting a prayer before meals. Families knew these pastas were ready to eat after only one little prayer!
EGGPLANT or CHICKEN PARMIGIANA
MELANZANE O POLLO ALLA PARMIGIANA
As I have said, these dishes are simple to make, however, there are certain steps that must be taken to ensure a rich, savory result that is not greasy nor too heavy. Eggplant in particular can be an oil sponge; if you are not careful, it will soak up the oil like a wick when frying. How do you prevent this? First, by making sure that the eggplant is sliced as thin as possible or the chicken is bought or pounded to no more than 1/4 inch thick, and second, that the oil is hot enough to cook quickly without burning, and third, creating a coating that will stick.
Oil Hotter than Hot
|Hot, Hot, Hot!|
|The French way to bread!|
It is best to use the authentic French way to bread the cutlets or eggplant rounds. This I learned from the book, 60 Minute Gourmet by the late Pierre Franey. It involves dredging the cutlets or eggplant first in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then egg, then fine bread crumbs. I find that if you wait a few minutes before frying, the combination of flour and egg forms a kind of glue that causes the breadcrumbs to adhere very well. I think it also provides a barrier that prevent the oil from soaking in too quickly.
Here are the recipes. Both the eggplant and chicken recipe are nearly the same, except the eggplant is layered, and the chicken cutlets are not.
|Slice it thin! Not so easy...|
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1 large eggplant
2 cups (approximately) flour, seasoned
with salt and pepper
3 large eggs
2 cups (approximately) seasoned bread crumbs
1 quart or more of your favorite marinara sauce (recipe below)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese or 1/2 pound sliced thin
2-3 cups canola oil (this has a high smoking point; olive oil of any kind will smoke and burn)
Prepare marinara sauce:
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can of peeled plum tomatoes in puree or juice, pureed
(or two cans of crushed tomatoes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 parsley sprigs
2-3 basil leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese (optional, do not use salt if you add the cheese)
(this gives the sauce a very rich flavor)
Saute onions, then garlic in olive oil under a medium flame until translucent. Add wine, cook until reduced by 1/3, then add tomatoes. Add herbs and spices, and cook on a low flame for about an hour, stir frequently. Correct for seasoning, set aside. I usually start the sauce and prepare the rest of the ingredients. By the time I finish preparation, it's done.
|Salt, and blot with paper towel|
In a high sided 12 inch frying pan, heat oil until approximately 375 degrees, using thermometer, water droplets, wooden spoon or other method. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Place eggplant rounds in oil but do not crowd, and fry until golden brown, less than one minute per side. Place eggplant rounds to drain on baking sheet.
|Ladle the sauce|
|Layering the eggplant|
Evenly distribute 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese or 1/4 pound of thin slices over the sauce. Place two more layers of eggplant, sauce and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes more.
Let cool for about 20 minutes, and cut into squares, and serve.
2 pounds chicken cutlets, sliced or pounded thin
|Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana, done!|
Happy Birthday, Italy!