Melanzane Parmigiana is, in our opinion, the greatest of all Italian dishes. We're biased of course; nevertheless, we're sticking to our claim.
We did a little digging to see if we could uncover the origins of the dish we're so passionate about and discovered it to be a hotly disputed subject in Italian gastronomic and historical circles. Credit is claimed concurrently by the cities of Sicily, Naples, and Parma, with no clear winner on the subject.
What is clear is that the aubergine (eggplant) found its way to Italy in the 15th century, carried by the Arabs, from India, but from here on, the details get a little murky.
Firstly, there is some dispute at to whether the word 'parmigiana' is a reference to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or not. One theory suggests that the name 'parmigiana' comes directly from the word 'petronciana,' a Persian name for eggplant when it first arrived in Southern Europe. Another suggests that it is derived from the word 'parmiciana', an Italian word for a wooden window shutter, which mimics the arrangement of the eggplant in some Melanzane Parmigiana dishes.
The first written mention of a dish resembling Melanzane Parmigiana is from Il saporetto, a well-known poem written in the early 1400s. The poem is about food and reference is made to a dish resembling Melanzane Parmigiana and the use of Parmigiano cheese.
The first historical culinary reference appears to be from 1733 by Vincenzo Corrado, a chef famous for serving the aristocracy of Naples during the 18th century. In his recipe, however, Corrado uses zucchini instead of eggplant, something we've replicated in our Zucchini Classic and Zucchini Met Vleish dishes.
Later, in a recipe book published 1786, there is a reference to cooking eggplant 'Alla Parmigiana' using a process similar to that of today.
It would seem, however, that the dish we know today with eggplant, parmesan cheese and the tomato-based sauce first appeared in print in Naples in 1837, coinciding interestingly with a time that tomatoes were first becoming popular in Italy.
While the origins of Melanzane Parmigiana will undoubtedly remain contested for decades to come, all we know for sure is that...
... it's irresistibly delicious.