I was inspired by Felicity Cloake’s advice about how to cook the perfect aubergine parmigiana to have a go myself. ‘Brighten up your bleak February evenings with a touch of stodgy Mediterranean magic,’ she said. Now it’s supposed to be Spring, but the temps. remain brass monkeys.
I’m sure that you, like me, are an ardent fan of Charlie Hicks’ brilliant monthly veg. market report, produced primarily for the benefit of his lucky customers in restaurants across the South West. In Chazza’s report for early March, he includes typically eccentric details of a Tilda Swinton aubergine-related brouhaha with the salient detail that Spanish aubergines are a washout this season and melanzane from Sicily are a better bet. Well, I’ve had to settle for a couple of the firmer-looking specimens from the selection offered by Olis of the Walworth Road.
There’s no real need to salt aubergines – as any fool knows – so I don’t. I slice my aubergines lengthways, about 8mm thick and, like Jamie Oliver, I griddle ’em. Unlike Jamie’s – allegedly – my aubergine slices don’t end up ‘disappointingly dry’ because I make sure they are well soaked with oil before they go on the griddle. I repeatedly baste one side of each slice with good, tasty olive oil and let it soak in before putting the slices onto the griddle, dry side down, so the heat draws the oil through the flesh of the aubergines.
I do like copious sauce. I picked up an economy bag of tomatoes, 10 for 99p, sweated them until their skins split, skinned and cooked ’em with sautéed onion and roasted garlic, plus a splash of red wine. I couldn’t get fresh oregano and the dried stuff is indeed redolent of ‘1980s pizza’, so I used thyme instead. Then, in a stroke of genius or insanity, I added the last few drops from the end of a bottle of Cajohn’s Killer Chipotle Hot Sauce. It was bound to obliterate any herbiness, but what can I say? I am having a chipotle moment. (On which subject, much more TBA!) My sauce was spicy, but not sufficiently tomatoey, so I added a tin of chopped plum tomatoes and cooked it down further.
Apparently, no-one disputes that Parmesan cheese is ‘the soul’ of this dish, but it’s expensive and I usually buy the similar but cheaper Grana Pradano instead. I’d have used the ‘firm mozzarella used as a pizza topping’ that supposedly works much better than good buffalo mozzarella, but Morrisons has severely restricted its range of cheeses in order to accommodate Indian & Caribbean specialities. So, I was obliged to go across the road to Marks & Sparks and they only do the posh stuff.
Only on top and, in this instance, out of a packet: Wroclaw breadcrumbs, from Poland! I know it seems wrong to be buying Polish breadcrumbs in a Turkish supermarket to make an Italian dish and by rights I should have had some home made bread going stale in the bin with which to make my own breadcrumbs, but my bread maker has been idle for weeks now because I have been taking advantage of the supermarkets’ roll offers: four for a quid in Tesco, but Morrisons give you five!
The packet breadcrumbs took browning under the grill and their texture was too fine to provide much crunch; I probably used too much sauce, or not enough cheese, and the chilli was a mistake in this context; the cheeses were OK, but not stringy enough. It was pretty damn good, though, washed down with a glass of Merlot. As The Guardian’s experts say, it was better warm rather than piping hot and also pretty damn good cold the next day with salad.