Melanzane In 5 Different Ways | Recipe Videos

Here is why eggplant became the unsung queen of Italian cuisine.

Slices of melanzane on baking paper after being roasted.
Lightly roasted eggplants. Photo: Lucian Alexe on Unsplash.

Melanzana. Eggplant. Aubergine. A fruit (yes, a fruit — a plant species in the nightshade family Solanaceae to be exact) by any other name would taste as sweet. While it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italian food, she is the unsung queen of Italian cuisine that is flexible enough to be the contorno, and also the primo piatto.

Explore some lesser-known Italian dishes featuring the melanzana with five recipes below. Vegetarian-friendly!

Parmigiana di melanzane

Beloved from the top to the bottom of Italy, parmigiana di melanzane is made up of the simplest ingredients — eggplant, tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil — but it packs the biggest punch. The recipe calls for frying long strips of melanzane in oil, then building it up in layers of tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmigiano, and basil leaves, the same way you make a lasagna. The last step is a blast in the oven, and it’s ready for the table. The mildness of the eggplant, combined with the milkiness of the mozzarella, and the sharpness of the Parmigiano and the tomato sauce, is an exercise in expertly balanced flavors.

Pasta alla Norma

Hailing from Catania, Sicily, this dish takes the same basic ingredients above, served together with pasta (typically spaghetti, but short pasta is also suitable). The mozzarella is swapped for sheep’s milk ricotta cheese grated over the final dish, and the lightly-fried eggplant cross-sections are cut into strips and mixed into the tomato sauce. The story goes that this dish got its name when Italian writer Nino Martoglio declared it “the real ‘Norma’!” — the play written by native Catanian Vincenzo Bellini — which is to say, a masterpiece.

Pesto di melanzane

It’s everything you love about basil pesto, but with eggplant. Unbelievably easy to whip up, store, and serve in a multitude of ways, it should be on standby in everyone’s fridge. Customize it by using different kinds of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, for example), sundried tomatoes, or chili flakes.

Polpette di melanzane

Traditionally seen as street food in Naples, these fried balls of eggplant are also a good option to serve as an aperitivo when entertaining at home. Just mash together softened eggplant, shredded parsley, grated Parmigiano, breadcrumbs, and an egg, roll into palm-sized balls, and fry in oil until it’s brown on all sides.

Melanzane sott’olio

Save the last of your summer eggplant harvest by putting them ‘under oil’ and set them aside for the winter months ahead. This simple recipe calls for thin strips of eggplant (parboiled in a mixture of water and vinegar) to be layered in a mason jar with pieces of garlic, chili, and herbs, then covered entirely in olive oil and left for at least a week in a very tightly closed jar before consuming it. Eat it on toasted bread as a snack, or serve it as a contorno to a meat dish — just always remember to keep it under oil!