Aubergines rank fairly low in my list of favourite vegetables because they’re easy to overcook and tend to turn mushy, with a bitterness that never really hits the mark. However, there is one surefire way to make them gorgeous and ensure the texture is nothing like soggy bread – the Italian hot dish, melanzane alla Parmigiana.
Traditional Italian Parmigiana isn’t vegetarian – the main ingredients are aubergine and tomatoes, but it’s the classic topping of Parmesan that puts the brakes on the veggie claim.
Jamie’s recipe uses Parmesan, so the challenge is to make a Parmigiana that’s as authentic and tasty as Jamie’s dish, but suitable for vegetarians.
Fortunately we have a veggie-friendly hero at our disposal thanks to the chaps at Pilgrims Choice. Using their vegetarian Cheddar, they have created a pretty natty way of making sure your topping is meltingly oozy, with a breadcrumb crunch: Crumbles.
This is a great way of creating a beautiful vegetarian Parmigiana really simply – and when I say simple I mean it, because you don’t even need to grate cheese. I’m being a bit of a show-off by finishing the dish in my Jamie Oliver wood-fired oven, but you can get the same effect with your grill. Either way, the Mediterranean flavours make this a great dish to eat outside.
You will need:
- 3 large aubergines (eggplants)
- 1 large jar of passata (sieved tomato)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 packet of Pilgrims Choice Extra Mature Cheddar Cheese Crumbles with Breadcrumbs and Herbs
- Fresh basil
- Dried oregano
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Griddle pan
- Large saucepan
1. Turn your oven on to 220°C/450°F/gas 8. Slice the aubergines lengthwise to a finger’s width and put them in a colander or sieve above the sink. Add a good sprinkle of table salt and mix it in. Leave for 10 minutes. This removes water from the vegetable and gives it more of a bite in the finished dish.
2. Get your griddle pan smoking hot over a high heat, brush the salt off the aubergine and cook them on the griddle pan until they char on both sides.
3. Get a large saucepan on a medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil, crush your garlic cloves into it once hot then mix. Don’t let them burn. Add the passata, a teaspoon of oregano and stir until it’s bubbling.
4. Get a baking dish and layer the chargrilled aubergine with the tomato sauce and a few basil leaves. Finish with a final layer of tomato sauce.
5. Put the dish in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove. Open your ready-crumbled bag of cheese and sprinkle over the top until all of the tomato is covered.
6. Either put it back into your oven for 20 minutes or under a moderate grill until golden brown, or be really fancy and stick it in a super-hot wood-fired oven.
7. Serve with another fresh sprig of basil.
The lovely thing about this delicious recipe is that the Crumbles ensure an amazing crunch and an oozy savoury cheese finish that protects the veg from being horribly overcooked. The sweetness of the tomatoes bursts through, with Mediterranean herbs adding a bit of Italian flair. The possibilities of this Crumbles mix are endless: cauliflower cheese; mac’n’cheese; cheesy-topped stuffed peppers. Perfect.
Trust me, if I can enjoy aubergine as much as I do in this dish, then you’ll love it.