You can’t see it very well in the photo, but inside that rolled up eggplant under the melted mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce is a juicy piece of monkfish. Parmigiana di Melanzana is one of my favorite dishes: eggplant baked with mozzarella, parmigiano, basil, and a tomato sauce. A variation I love perhaps even more is to add a veal cutlet into the mix: Veal Scaloppine with Eggplant and Mozzarella. And now I have another favorite, inspired by something we had at an Italian restaurant on Corsica, with monkfish instead of veal. It has great flavor and is easy to prepare in advance and then bake in the oven to serve, so perfect for a dinner party. Here’s what I did…
For 4 servings as secondo piatto after a nice primo or 2 servings as (very low carb) piatto unico
400 grams (.9 lbs) monkfish fillet
125 grams (4.4 oz) mozzarella, preferably buffalo
2 eggplants (about 800 grams / 1.8 lbs)
500 ml (2 cups) sieved tomatoes/passata/tomato puree
24 basil leaves (more if they are very small or less if they are very large)
1 clove garlic
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the monkfish into 8 equal pieces and season them on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour to lightly cure the monkfish.
In the meantime, prepare the eggplant. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (160C/320F if fan forced). Cut the ends off each eggplant and then cut the skin away on two sides in such a way that the remaining eggplant is flat.
Cut that piece into 4 slices of equal thickness that have skin on the sides. If you do this with both eggplants, you should end up with 8 slices.
You could salt the eggplant slices and let them rest for an hour to draw out the juices, but that is not really necessary as today’s cultivated eggplants are not bitter anymore.
Brush the eggplant slices thinly with olive oil on all sides (don’t forget the sides).
Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and bake at 180C/350F (160C/320F if fan forced) for 15 minutes. Then turn them around…
…and bake them for another 15 minutes. The eggplant should be golden brown (not too dark) and soft.
While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, turn off the heat and tilt the pan. Put a garlic clove (cut into two pieces) in the oil and allow the garlic to gently sizzle in the oil until it is lightly golden, then discard the garlic. This will flavor the oil with the garlic while you won’t actually be eating the garlic.
Pour 500 ml (2 cups) of passata into the frying pan with the garlic-infused oil.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring the passata to a boil, stirring. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn down the heat to a gentle simmer.
Simmer the tomato sauce until it is no longer watery (you can tell when stirring leaves a track that doesn’t close up right away).
Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. You may also need to add a pinch of sugar, depending on the quality of the passata.
Take the monkfish out of the refrigerator and pat it dry with paper towels.
Brown the monkfish in olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over high heat.
Transfer the monkfish to a plate if it is lightly golden on all sides. Do not cook the monkfish all the way through, this browning step is just to add some flavor.
Grease an oven proof dish with olive oil.
Cover the bottom with a thin layer of tomato sauce.
Put a basil leaf on each slice of eggplant.
Put a piece of monkfish on top of each basil leaf, and top with another leaf.
Roll up the eggplant around the monkfish and basil, and arrange in the baking dish in a single layer.
Top with the remaining tomato sauce, and put a basil leaf on each roll.
Cut the mozzarella into 8 pieces, and put a piece of mozzarella on top of each roll. Sprinkle everything with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.
Up to this point the dish can be assembled beforehand and refrigerated. If you want to do that, make sure to allow the monkfish, eggplant, and tomato sauce to cool to room temperature before assembling the dish. Then cover and refrigerate it.
To serve, preheat the oven to 225C/440F and bake for 10 minutes (or about 15 minutes if it was refrigerated). The fish should just be cooked through and the mozzarella should be melted.
The best wine for this is a rosé of a light style such as Provence. This works well with all the components of the dish. A chilled young Chianti of a light style could also work, or a full-bodied Italian white such as a Fiano di Avellino.
Pita bread with shawarma, usually lamb or pork, is popular street food in the Netherlands. This salmon shawarma with beet tzatziki on pita bread is a completely different take that is absolutely delicious.