By Mia McCarthy
I played around with the name of this recipe for a while. Apologetic Parmigiana - Apologiana? Whatever you want to call it, this is a dish that you’ll want to prepare when you owe somebody an apology.
First: a moment for the Violetta aubergine. One of the most consistent joys in my life is visiting the Oranjezicht City Farm Market every Saturday. Cape Town’s premium farmer’s market catches a lot of press for the delicious, prepared food available for purchase (you can read about my top five picks in an upcoming blog!). Still, the real star of the market is the local, seasonal produce arranged in a colourful cornucopia around which Nike-clad promenade stompers like me congregate, sporting woven baskets for our gorgeous groceries.
One Saturday, years ago, I was browsing the heirloom tomatoes and happened upon the single most beautiful vegetable I have ever seen. The Violetta di Firenze (Violet Florentine), an Italian aubergine whose fruits display an astounding range of pastel lavenders, deep violet, and streaks of cream - one look and I was captured forever. Now, I wait feverishly for them to come into season (early March to May) and allocate a sizeable chunk of my grocer budget to buying these astonishing beauties.
I happened to have two of them sitting pretty in my pantry when, a few weeks ago, I upset someone close to me. The details are distant to me now, but I knew that there was only one thing I could do to remedy the offense. I had to bake an Apoligiana with my beloved Violettas. And now, I’ll teach you how to do the same.
What you’ll need:
Aubergines (one Violetta per person, or two pedestrian aubergines per person)
Panko bread crumbs
A neutral frying oil (canola oil is just fine)
One egg per person you are serving
About a cup of flour
A batch of my Angry Tomato Sauce (you can get the recipe here!)
1-2 mozzarella balls
Some parmesan, if you’re bougie
The act of carefully slicing, salting, coating, and shallow-frying each individual slice of aubergine is what makes this a good apology meal. The care and dedication that this recipe requires of the chef is a symbolic testament to how sorry they are for the transgressions committed against whoever it is they are serving. Let’s get into it.
How to make it:
1. Slice your aubergines into medallions and salt each side generously. Leave them on baking tray or in a colander for about fifteen minutes. After a while, you’ll see lots of moisture beads appearing on the white flesh. That’s good! We don’t want that water in our hot oil. Dab it off with some paper towel.
2. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius, and turn on the broiler while you’re at it.That’s the hot element at the top of the oven, perfect for that beautiful grilled finish on cheese.
3. Prepare three shallow bowls for a) your flour, b) your egg mixture, and c) your panko crumbs.
4. Heat about 2cm of oil in a thick-bottomed pan on medium heat. I have found superior results with a cast-iron pan, but a good-quality nonstick will do the trick. You’ll know your oil is ready when you stick the end of a wooden spoon into it and it bubbles around the wood.
5. Add a good whack of salt and ground pepper into your flour. Depending on how flavourful your sauce and your panko crumbs are, you can adjust salt/spice levels to your liking at this stage. Cooking is customisable, people!
6. Start the assembly line: coat your aubergine medallion in flour, then egg, then panko. Pop them into the oil and shallow fry on both sides until golden brown. Don’t crowd the pan with medallions. Remember, you’re doing penance here, so the slower the process is, the better.
7. Now is a good time to sneak in a sigh of exhaustion, or to cradle a minor oil burn on your forearm. Show them how sorry you are.
8. Once your medallions are done, layer them into individual ovenproof bowls or a larger pan in the following order: layer of tomato sauce, layer of aubergine, light layerof mozzarella. Finish off with an extra generous helping of mozzarella and parmesan.
9. Grill in the oven until the cheese is molten and golden brown. Serve with a dusting of freshly chopped parsley, and you’re smiling on your way out of the doghouse.
Listen. By the end of this arduous process, you’ll be covered in grease splatters, egg mixture, and itchy panko crumbs. You will have slaved away for hours - and that is the point.