Parmigiana is one of those dishes which, despite the name (meaning “from Parma”, a town in Northern Italy), immediately evokes our region and its extraordinary ingredients, from vegetables to mozzarella. The basic ingredient is aubergines (although a version with zucchini was already known in the 18th century), why then the name «parmigiana» (parmigiano is of course the name of a famous italian cheese coming from parma region)?
We prefer an explanation that considers the fruitful cultural crossings of the various dominations that followed one another on our peninsula. Aubergines arrived in Sicily with the Arabs and were probably used for a recipe similar to the oriental «moussaka». When the island became part of the Kingdom of Naples, this dish was adopted by Neapolitan cuisine by adding fior di latte or mozzarella. On the other hand, in the 15th and 16th centuries cooking vegetables «in the Parmigian way» indicated the custom of cutting in strips and arranging them in layers. Then most probably the recipe, coming from Sicily and reelaborated in our region, took its definitive form (arrangement of the vegetables, addition of Parmesan, which with its stronger flavor balances the delicacy of fior di latte) from 1734, when the Bourbons, who ruled over the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, came to Naples!
Many other variations followed, more or less orthodox, and our chef Libera Iovine proposes us this one, called «Spring (Primavera) Parmigiana» (with artichokes, aubergines ripen at the end of summer), bound to her family history.
In fact she tells us that her husband’s father was from Barano d’Ischia and, among many other jobs, he traded vegetables and especially artichokes. The procurement was performed «on sight», in the sense that the production of an entire plantation was purchased and the price was agreed with the farmer simply by looking at the plants and estimating an approximate value of the vegetables still on the plants. The mother-in-law Vincenza was always anxious, because very often her husband exaggerated when purchasing. So all the springs of her and her husband’s youth were dedicated to the collection of artichokes … with the related eating habits.
As they had plenty of them, the menu for the months of March and April was practically dedicated to artichokes: boiled, stuffed, Roman-style, fried and of course … parmigiana style!
Ingredients for 4 persons:
Clean the artichokes and soak them in water and lemon for about 15 minutes. Dry them and cut 5 into thin slices.
Prepare two beaten eggs, pass the thin artichoke slices first in the flour and then in the eggs, finally fry them in olive oil. Place them on absorbent paper to remove oil in excess.
In the meantime, shortly sauté the sixth artichoke cut in dices together with its stem in a pan with garlic and oil. Let cool and add the remaining two eggs, the cheese and mozzarella in dices.
Prepare a fresh tomato sauce with garlic, oil and basil and reduce it to a cream in a blender after cooking.
In a small cocotte, put the previously fried artichokes on the sides and in the center the dough composed by the sixth artichoke with eggs, mozzarella and cheese, then bake at 160°C for 20 minutes.
When ready, turn the cocotte upside down on a nice plate to form your artichoke pie in the center, cover it with the tomato cream and sprinkle with basil and grated Parmesan.