Parmigiana di melanzane has come to be a much loved southern Italian dish. The version we know today, consisting of cheese and tomato sugo appeared in about 1837 and denotes a period of time where tomatoes were becoming a popular, primary ingredient for Italian’s.
To read more about the dish’s origins, click here!
This dish I thought resonated with me not because of the meal as a whole, but the main ingredient, eggplant. Like southern Italians, the eggplant is a staple in the diasporic Fijian-Indian diet. In making this I wanted to symbolically embrace the shared features within these two culinary identities.
Fiji’s most popular eggplant dish is called baigan choka, (roasted eggplant). Whenever I eat it, it immediately conjures images of being back in Fiji sitting next to my grandma as she cooked the eggplant in a large clay oven with the charred smell wafting towards me through the all too humid air. So for me, eggplant is a source of nostalgia and one which I sought to extend to this Italian dish.
Making and preparing the different components for the parmigiana di melanzane was straightforward. Adding tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, salt, pepper, chili flakes and paprika (the last two weren’t actually in the recipe but my Fijian-Indian palate just couldn’t resist!) into a saucepan and bringing it to a simmer, then, cutting the eggplant wasn’t a problem. The trouble came when knowing how long to cook the eggplant , but after a few failed attempts it was in the dish, sprinkled with cheese, baked, then ready to mangia!
The time it took to make this dish turned out to all be worth it as within five minutes of putting it down at the food fair it was all gone (success!). After an afternoon of indulging in one too many sweets and getting some sugar induced jitters, it was time time to call it a day.