Alastair Little interrogates Italian food geography. Pizza royalty. The perils of single course dining. And the roaming influence of Parmigiana di melanzane…
Despite the name, la parmigiana di melanzane is a glorious speciality of Naples and can be found throughout the South. The first recipe dates back to a cookery text from the early nineteenth century. It is a rich, tasty and savoury dish, which lends itself well to being served as a second course or even as a single course meal.
This introduction, translated from a basic Neapolitan cookbook (by me, with help from Google!), contains three main points of interest:
The name translated as ‘Aubergine in the manner of Parma’ is strange, as the dish has nothing to do with that rich northern city except the inclusion of its cheese. The Neapolitans probably thought the name added a touch of the exotic to one of their staples. They also have a plain braised beef dish called La Genovese which is named after Genoa and has even less to do with that city than the Parmigiana has to do with Parma.
But then they have a penchant for giving their dishes fanciful names, the best example being their christening of the original pizza after Margherita, the first queen of Italy who visited the city once and charmed the locals rather more than her husband.
For ‘can be found throughout the South’ read ‘wherever Italians from the South settled in the world’. The dish is big in America, a pub staple in Australia and popular in Scandinavia. Not so much in the UK, which is a pity as it is a marvel.
Even stranger is the admission at the end that the dish can be served as a piatto unico, a single dish. Italians do not do one course meals, they simply don’t get them; lunch is three courses and dinner four, never one solitary lonely plate of food. The clue here is in the description as ‘rich savoury and tasty’, it is all three and so much so that it does not sit easily in a multi course meal as you may have to lie down for a nap after eating it.
Parmigiana di melanzane now features on our Autumn menu here.