We were staying in a small town at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily in October. I made the obligatory rounds at the pastry shops and at Condorelli spied a small selection of breads with interesting fillings. One of the breads I purchased was declared the undisputed winner and it was filled with aubergine Parmigiana (eggplant Parmesan to our American friends). I love the ingenious idea of taking dishes one would normally eat sitting at dinner and make them portable. When we drove from Sicily to Calabria across the straits of Messina, we knew exactly what to buy for our road trip.
However, when we arrived back home, we were still missing the granita in warm brioche and this aubergine Parmigiana sandwich. The deliciously familiar layers of aubergine married with cheese and tangy tomato sauce were conveniently encased in a soft, slightly sweet bread reminiscent of childhood packed lunches. Being able to eat aubergine Parmigiana with one hand while driving was a complete revelation and we started concocting ideas to make other traditionally awkward foods portable. I decided to try to replicate the recipe and was very happy with the results. This is perfect for school or work lunches, road trips, picnics or anytime really.
Parmigiana di melanzane in crosta (bread filled with aubergine Parmigiana) – Sicilia
575 grams flour
10 grams salt
6 grams fresh yeast (3 grams dry yeast)
65 grams olive oil
340 grams milk
400 grams biga (made with 200 grams flour, 200 grams water and 2.5 grams yeast – see method here)
1 large aubergine (500 grams)
300 gms skinned plum tomatoes, drain, deseed, and chop (can use tinned)
9 leaves basil
1/2 red onion, trim end, skin, and finely chop
35 grams plain flour
150 mls olive oil for frying
200 grams mozzarella, tear into thumb sized pieces, and strain
40 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grate
1 egg, hard-boil, shell, and slice (optional)
Black pepper, freshly ground
Trim the stem and slice the aubergine lengthwise into 5 mm thick slices. If the aubergine has large seeds, sprinkle it with 2 teaspoons of the salt and leave in a colander over a bowl to drain for 1 to 2 hours.
Place the flour, biga, milk, oil, salt and yeast into a bowl. If using a mixer, add the dough hook attachment, mix the ingredients together on low for 3 minutes until it all comes together. If doing by hand, mix the ingredients together for 15 minutes. Cover the dough with cling film and let sit for 20 minutes.
Grease a worktop with some oil. Place the dough in the middle. Pull one side of the dough and fold it a third of the way across. Turn the dough around and fold the opposite end over top of the folded dough. Turn the dough 90 degrees and begin folding the other sides. Turn the dough over and roll it around to form a ball.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and let it sit for 90 minutes.
Place the tomato, 4 basil leaves, and the onion in a sauce pan. Heat the sauce pan over medium heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree the sauce with a food mill or blend in a blender or with a hand blender.
Heat the oven to 175 C. Place a wire rack over top of a baking tray. Place the aubergine in a kitchen towel and squeeze dry.
Dredge the aubergine in the flour to coat lightly. Heat a frying pan with olive oil at 2 cm depth until when you sprinkle in a bit of flour, bubbles form immediately. Ensure that the oil is hot otherwise the aubergine will absorb the oil and become soggy and heavy. Turn when golden, about 2 minutes each side.
Fry the aubergine in batches, ensuring not to overcrowd the pan or the aubergine will become heavy. Remove the aubergine when done to drain on the metal rack, preferably in a single layer. Let drain for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Divide the dough into two and roll them out to form two rectangles about 35 cm long. Layer the aubergine down the middle of each dough lengthwise. Drizzle the tomato sauce over. Top with the torn mozzarella. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over top.
Grab one side of the dough and fold over the entire filling. Repeat with the other side, pressing to close. Place on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.