Thomasina Miers’ recipe for aubergine parmigiana with spinach and ricotta
I adore parmigiana di melanzane, with its layers of sweetly acidic tomato sauce, grilled-until-collapsing aubergine and generous amounts of oozing, stringy cheese. It can, though, feel a little rich to have all on its own, and decidedly too much work for a midweek side dish. While you can get around this easily enough by serving it with a delicious salad, when spinach and chard are bursting out of the ground, I love to wilt them in a little oil and add them in layers to give extra goodness to this comforting dish.
Parmigiana di melanzane with spinach and ricotta
Cooking the late-summer tomatoes for as long as possible makes all the difference here. You will need a medium-sized baking dish.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
For the sauce
900g ripe tomatoes (or use tinned)
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 tsp soft brown sugar, or to taste
1 large bunch basil, leaves picked
For the filling
500g large spinach (or chard), washed (if using chard, strip the leaves off the thick stalks and save the stalks for a gratin, soup, omelette or stir-fry)
Extra-virgin olive oil
75g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and pepper
3 large aubergines
Shake the spinach or chard of any excess water. Heat a large pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the leaves, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until they have mostly collapsed. Tip into a bowl, stir in the ricotta, nutmeg and two-thirds of the parmesan, season generously, then set aside.
Now make the sauce. Blitz the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a food processor for a minute. Pour three tablespoons of oil into the same pan in which you wilted the leaves, and set over a medium-high heat. Add the pureed tomato mix, cook on a high heat for a few minutes, then turn the heat down low. Stir in the sugar, season generously and leave to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 15-20 minutes, and the longer, the better. After the sauce has been cooking for 10 minutes, shred all but a handful of the basil leaves and stir them in; reserve the remaining whole leaves to garnish.
Meanwhile, heat a grill to its highest setting (or use a hot griddle pan). Cut the aubergines lengthways into roughly 5mm-thick slices; don’t worry if the’re not uniform, because the slices will be covered in the silky tomato sauce later. Brush both sides with olive oil and grill or griddle for five to six minutes a side, until well browned and extremely soft to the point of a knife – raw, pale aubergine is never a good thing!
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and sugar, as necessary. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a medium-sized baking dish, and top first with a layer of the aubergine slices, followed by a layer of the spinach and ricotta mix. Shred a quarter of the mozzarella over the spinach layer, season lightly, then repeat with one or two more layers of each, depending on the size of your dish. Top with a final layer of tomato sauce. Scatter over the last of the mozzarella, parmesan and the reserved basil leaves, then drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden. Remove and leave to rest for five to 10 minutes before serving.
And for the rest of the week …
Make masses of the tomato sauce while home-grown tomatoes are so good and jar for the winter (or freeze in small batches). If using chard, put the blanched stems in omelettes or frittatas.