History of eggplant parmigiana: from the Middle Ages to the present day

by Imma Galluccio

What's tastier and more typical in ours culinary tradition, if not the beloved eggplant parmigiana. 

From Middle Ages, the recipe comes from a mix of meat and cheese, enriched with food over time imported from Arab trade and the discovery of America. 

The "Parmesana" method and the Neapolitan claim  

In the Middle Ages, with trade that gradually expanded towards the coasts of the East, it was not unusual to discover new delicacies. All this made the court cooks skilled experimenters of foods from all over Italy and beyond: thus the method spread. "alla Parmesana ". 

The technique of "Parmesana" it consisted in combining different foods and layering them in a pan or pot, cooking everything. Just one of the dishes that came out may recall the one closest to local parmigiana, a mess made up of cheese e meat.  

The Arabs, during the medieval period and beyond, they were great merchants and traders and it was from Asia Minor that they imported them into Europe eggplant

Once fried, they became a worthy substitute for meat in the recipe "Alla Parmesana": cheese, fried aubergines cut into strips and finally meat broth to tie everything together. 

Although a little late, with the discovery of the Americas came the tomato which was soon used as a substitute for all animal fats, and this is where the recipe "Alla Parmesana" underwent a further modification: instead of the meat broth came, the aubergine was cooked in the sauce of tomato.  

The ancestor of the eggplant parmigiana, as well as being a mix of foods and flavors, can be defined as an assemblage of cultures. In fact in the 1839, Ippolito Cavalcanti himself claimed ownership Neapolitan, inserting the recipe within his culinary treatise “Theoretical-practical cuisine”. 

The best eggplant parmigiana? The one from Ischia  

In the essay "Neapolitan cuisine”By Jenne Caròla Francesconi the primacy of the best eggplant parmigiana is attributed to the Green Island of the Campania archipelago.  

To Ischiain fact, in the restaurant of the Pirozzi sisters Francesconi says she ate there best eggplant parmigiana.  

“A three-finger thick parmigiana that was easily cut into slices, fresh, just stewed and scented with basil”. 

The Parmigiana recipe was jealously guarded by Pirozz sistersi, who despite having an open kitchen, have never revealed their secret to anyone. 

It is said that they added chocolate or egg, or that they passed the aubergines in flour and gilded them.  

These are the various hypotheses that were confessed to Francesconi by the employees of the Pirozzi sisters, who, while replicating the recipe, only came to modest results

Parmigiana is for Ischia, as for all Neapolitans, a traditional dish that is enjoyed during the holidays.  

For the people of Ischia, the right time to enjoy an eggplant parmigiana is while waiting for the fires of Sant'Anna, that each July 26 light up the Aragonese castle and the Cartaromana bay below.  

History of eggplant parmigiana: from the Middle Ages to the present day

The protagonist of the parmigiana? The Neapolitan eggplant 

The protagonist of a self-respecting Parmigiana is undoubtedly the aubergine, not just any one, but the Neapolitan one.  

We are talking about the long violet eggplant, the most suitable to be fried and which binds perfectly to the sauce with which it is accompanied, that is the tomato sauce.  

This variety has a shape tapered and one color deep purple, what distinguishes it from the others is certainly the scarcity of thorns and the tasty pulp, which by nature has a spicy aftertaste. 

The period in which it is sown is from May to October, even if the first aubergines are harvested after a couple of months from sowing. 

 The cultivation of the vegetable takes place thanks to the help of poles that act as support and iron wires on which the plant grows, this method also facilitates the collection of the product. 

History of eggplant parmigiana: from the Middle Ages to the present day

The preparation  

The preparation of the aubergine parmigiana is long, but not complex, but it is necessary to start a day earlier, to have an impeccable result. 

 We start with the ragù, which by tradition must cook at least 24 hoursbut if you want to go and prepare a more parmigiana fast and less heavy, you can use a simple cooked tomato sauce until it is thick enough. 

The most important part is undoubtedly the preparation of the aubergines: in fact, you have to cut them into long slices and put them in bathroom in water and salt, to eliminate the bitter aftertaste. Then you have to fry them in peanut or sunflower oil and brown them well. 

Finally, by assembling the fried aubergines and the sauce in a baking dish, the most poetic act of aubergine parmigiana begins, the filling of each layer: parmesan and buffalo mozzarella until the ingredients run out.  

Bake at 180 degrees for about twenty minutes and after letting it rest for a while, the queen of the table will be ready to be eaten. 


Neapolitan cuisine, Jeanne Carolavo Francesconi, editions of the dolphin

Frijenno Magnanno: the thousand and one recipes, Luciano De Crescenzo, Il Libro in Piazza

Theoretical-practical cuisine, 1839, Ippolito Cavalacanti


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