Rich and comforting; a great mass of melted cheese, olive-oily aubergine slices and garlicky tomato sauce
– melanzane parmigiana, to give it its proper Italian name, is my go-to dish when one of my many vegetarian friends is over for dinner (and sometimes when they’re not).You can lighten this recipe for a warmer day by replacing the mozzarella with a tub of full-fat crème-fraîche reduced in a saucepan with a sprig of lemon thyme. But either way, I’d be looking at the same wines.With such bold flavours, red is going to work better than white but as it’s summer, I’ve included a white option as well. If you can’t get hold of it, then look for an unoaked white that doesn’t taste too violently fruity – think verdicchio, arneis, gavi or vermentino. As for red, well, it’s nearly always Italian with Italian food and this dish is no exception.The distinguishing feature of most Italian reds is good acidity.Wait, don’t be put off: because bad wines are often described as tasting like battery acid or vinegar, the word ‘acid’ has acquired negative connotations when it comes to wine. In fact, that edge does good work cutting through the gloop of the fat and it plays well with the tomatoes.The other feature common to Italian reds is a bit of decent tannin and, again, this can be a relief when eating fatty food as it seems to hoover all the oil out of your mouth. So here we go. One aubergine, cheese and tomato dish, one bottle of Italian wine, maybe a rocket salad, and that’s a summer evening sorted.



Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 Italy (13.5%, M&S, £8.99)

From the lagoon area of the Veneto in Italy’s Northeast, this red is tangy with a dried cherry richness and stalky, layered warmth that comes from being passed back over fermented grape-skins.

Falabella Bianco 2013 Italy (12.5%, Majestic, £7.99)

Clean and crisp but not boring – I always imagine peach skin and pressed flowers, seen through thick waxy transparent paper, when I taste this central Italian blend of trebbiano, pecorino and cococciola.

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Finest Bolgheri 2010 Italy (13.5%, Tesco, £11.99)

A so-called super-Tuscan because it’s made from French grapes – predominantly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, this is smooth, rich and would be excellent if you were serving the aubergine as a side dish with barbecued meat.

Waitrose Rich & Intense Italian Red (12.5%, Waitrose, £4.99)

A cheapie blend of three red grapes; nero di troia, primitivo and montepulciano. A weekday no-brainer.

Aubergine parmigiana recipe

garlic 3 cloves, chopped

olive oil

plum tomatoes 2 x 400g tins

aubergine 900g-1kg (about 4 small ones)

parmesan 75g, grated

mozzarella 250g, torn into pieces

breadcrumbs a handful

basil a few leaves

step 1

Fry the garlic in a small amount of olive oil in a saucepan until golden. Add the tomatoes and chop in the pan using a pair of scissors.

step 2

Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until glossy.

step 3

In the meantime, cut the aubergines into slices about 1 cm thick. Sprinkle with a little salt then shallow-fry them in olive oil in a frying pan, turning once, until they’re golden on each side. You will need to do this in batches and it will take some time.

step 4

Keep adding more oil to the pan as you go – if the aubergine dry-fries it will burn. The aubergine will hoover up a terrifying quantity of oil, so rest the slices between sheets of paper kitchen roll to soak some of it out.

step 5

When the sauce is cooked, squash the lumps out with the back of a spoon (there’s no need to purée it).

step 6

Put a layer of aubergines, one of sauce and a scattering of parmesan in a 22cm square deep ovenproof dish. Repeat until the ingredients are used up (probably three layers), making sure you finish with sauce. Scatter with torn up mozzarella and any remaining parmesan. Cook for 25 mins at 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Scatter with breadcrumbs, turn up oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 and cook 15 minutes more or until golden and bubbling. Scatter with basil leaves before serving.

PER SERVING 572 kcals, protein 23.3g, carbs 14.4g, fat 47g, sat fat 16.4g, fibre 8.7g, salt 1.5g

This feature was published in June 2014

Photographs: Mike English

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