Melanzane a la Parmigiana or aubergine parmigiana for us non-italians is one of my favourite dishes. While it is made solely of vegetables and may seem fresh and healthy it is every bit as decadent as its sister meat lasagna. Typically you deep fry the sliced aubergine before layering it in a casserole dish with tomato sauce, grana padano, and mozarella. Some even add a tad of bechamel sauce to thicken up the layers. While I love almost everything which is deep fat fried (I lived in Belgium for almost ten years…) during the week I have no desire or patience to deep fry aubergines! So I looked online for different parmigiana recipes and came up with a combination of all of them which results in a healthier and easier to make parmigiana.
You will need:
- 3-4 big purple aubergines, sliced.
- 1 can of chopped marzano tomatoes (or the best quality chopped tomatoes/passata you can find – it really makes a difference and they are not that much more expensive).
- 1 small onion, chopped finely.
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped.
- Fresh basil
- 2 mozzarella balls.
- 200 grams of grana padano (similar to parmigiano but milder and cheaper), or a mix of grana padano and parmiggiano.
1. Start by slicing and washing the aubergines and sprinkle them heavily with salt. Put in a container and let it rest for a while to get rid of the bitterness. While they are resting start preparing the sauce.
2. Fry the onion and the garlic in olive oil until translucid. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook in a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. Finish the sauce by adding the basil and wizzing it in a mixer or smoothie machine. Now it’s time to start layering!
3. Start with a layer of tomato sauce, add a layer of aubergine, another layer of sauce, a layer of grana padano and a layer of mozzarella. Repeat in the same order until you have used up the ingredients. Make sure to add extra cheese on the last layer so it crisps up on top.
4. Cook at 180 degrees in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Let it rest for a bit before you cut into it.
Enjoy a healthy parmigiana which is as good as the time-consuming, deep fried version!
Puttanesca is a loaded name for a fiery pasta dish (Meatball and Salted Cod reject imposing stigmas on innocent pasta so won’t develop it more here. But there’s always google…). It is garlicky and rich with anchovies and tomato and has a fiery kick of chili, which blends with saltiness from olives and capers. It was supposedly invented in Naples or Syracuse, and I’ve been told it is good with tuna. In any case it is delicious as it is, makes your kitchen smell like an Italian restaurant and requires very few ingredients (if you substitute the fresh chillies with dry crushed ones it doesn’t require anything fresh, so it’s a good SOS-dish when you’ve got very little at home but all the stores are closed/too far away/it’s raining/can’t afford a take-away/all the local take-aways are overpriced rubbish/don’t fancy another night with packet noodles). In short, it’s a winner. Did we mention it is cheap? It is also super-simple to make, so another recipe for the kitchen-phobes out there.
For 2 persons:
- 4 heaped tablespoons of olives, roughly chopped (preferably greek calamata but cheaper stuff works too)
- 2 tablespoons capers (more if you like it salty, less if you want it milder)
- 1 can peeled plum tomatoes (chopped tomates are also good, but the peeled taste tomatoier)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 anchovies
- 2 red chillies (or chili flakes to the strength you fancy)
- Spaghetti or linguine
Start with slicing the garlic cloves thinly, and de-seed and chop your chillies. Fry this together with the anchovies in some oil for a few minutes until their flavours are released and the anchovies dissolve (it smells amazing together) and then add the can of peeled plum tomatoes. Make it simmer, then turn down the heat. Crush the tomatoes with a suitable utensil. After 10 minutes, start making your pasta. When the pasta is almost done, put the tablespoons of olives and capers into the sauce and let them heat up. Drain the pasta and mix it in with the sauce. Done!
(If you are into your cooking programmes, Meatball and Salted cod can strongly recommend the BBC French food fetishism that is Raymond Blanc: The Very Hungry Frenchman; it goes as well with a large plate of puttanesca as a full-bodied bottle of Primitivo).
Today I will be hosting a dinner at my house with, amongst others, Miss Meatball herself as my guest. Therefore, today you are getting both a recipe and a review of the meal. This post should be called: how to make a perfect pizza, then go on to burn your friend’s finger, destroy your oven, cook pizza in a frying pan with a wok on top, and then revive the oven and make really good pizzas again. So, skip the burning your friend/destroying the oven bit and make really easy home-made pizza.
- Self-raising flour (good flour!)
- Warm water
- Olive Oil
This pizza dough needs to rise for a few hours, so it’s best made the night before or the day before, you want it to rise as much as you can. I don’t really measure anything for this recipe and just kind of add as I go. You should probably be doing something like 200g of flour and 30cl of water for about two big pizzas, but it’s easier to measure it by looking at it. So you start by putting the flour in a bowl and making a little hole in the middle. Then you start adding the warm water, little by little and mixing in the flour and the water with a wooden spoon. Do this until the dough is mixed and can be kneaded with your hands.
Move to a dry surface and knead for 10 mins, adding salt little by little so it mixes well in the dough while you’re kneading. Form the dough into a ball-shape and rub olive oil all over. Put it a bowl which has previously been rubbed with olive oil, cover with a tea towel or any fabric you have in hand and let it rest for a minimum of three hours. While the dough is rising go buy some toppings and start making some tomato sauce. Our first pizza was made of tomato sauce, parma ham, caramelised onions and goats cheese, so I’ll give the recipe for the sauce and the caramelised onions.
For the sauce you will need:
- 1 tin of good quality chopped/whole tomatoes (if you’re a student like me it’s a good idea to buy them in bulk when they’re on a deal at your local supermarket as it really makes a difference to have good quality tinned tomatoes).
- half a glass of red wine (plus more to drink while you’re making the sauce).
- olive oil
- garlic, finely chopped (as much as you wish, I usually go for three cloves).
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- good quality tomato paste (they have some really good ones in waitrose, and they last forever).
- salt & pepper
Start by chopping the onions and frying them in a little bit of olive oil, on a medium temperature, for about 10 mins until they become soft. Add the chopped garlic, turn the heat up a bit and fry, while constantly stirring (so the garlic doesn’t burn) for about 3 minutes, just enough for the garlic to release its flavour. Turn the heat up a bit more, add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chopped tomatoes, half a glass of water, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to very low, put a cover on and simmer for as long as you can. Season with salt and pepper, and maybe add a bit of sugar if the sauce tastes too acidic. This sauce gets better with time, so ideally you want to cook it for 1h30 hours. You can also double or triple the recipe and freeze it. While the sauce is bubbling on the side you can start making the caramelised onions.
You will need:
- 3 red or yellow onions, or shallots if you’re feeling fancy (white onions don’t really work)
- A non-stick pan
- Olive oil
- some balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze (this is optional).
Start by chopping the onions into strips, it doesn’t need to look perfect. Fry them in olive oil on a high/medium heat for 5 minutes then lower the heat to the slowest setting on your hob and let it cook by itself, stirring from time to time. You can add the balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze to accelerate the process or you can just let it cook until it looks dark and well caramelised on its own.
When all this is done and the dough has doubled in size, you can start kneading again (or you can find someone with strong arms and hands aka. Miss Meatball herself to do it for you). Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then you need to start rolling the dough using a rolling pin (or an old wine bottle if you’re a lazy student like me). Roll it as thin as you can and transfer it to a sheet of tin foil. Your oven should be heated up to its maximum temperature, to simulate the heat of a pizza oven (although, if you have an oven like mine, it might overheat and die after half an hour, leaving you to make pizza on a frying pan and burning your friend’s hand in the process).
Start spreading the tomato sauce and add your toppings, leaving the cheese for last so it melts on top of everything. Now you can either put it in like that or fold it to make a calzone. Leave it in the oven until it’s crispy and all the toppings look cooked/melted. Serve with lots of wine and special Belgian beers 🙂
Now Miss Meatball’s review: This dough and sauce was delicious, so I am only going to comment on it by saying that this will be my dough recipe of choice for making home-made pizza next time. The sauce was dark and rich, and the dough resulted in thin, crispy beauties coming out of the oven (albeit in a asymmetrical sense perhaps). My favourite topping was the first mix, as the smooth goats cheese went so well against the salty crispiness of the parma ham and the sweetness of the caramelised onions. Drizzling a little bit of truffle oil on top of it made it the winner by me. However, the other guests seemed keener on the calzone with chorizo and lots and lots of mozzarella. It being in the shape of a calzone made it gooey and sumptuous and not the slightest dry. All in all, lovely thin pizzas. And making them provided us with plenty of action and entertainment.