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I recently read the article, “Parmigiana Dishes to Warm Weary Souls” in the New York Times that got me to thinking about how many different kinds of Parmigiana exists in our cuisine.

Parmigiana or parmesan, also parmigiana di melanzane or melanzane alla parmigiana is an Italian dish made with a fried, sliced filling, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked. Parmigiana made with a filling of eggplant (also called aubergine) is the earliest and still unique Italian version. Other variations may include chicken, veal, or another type of meat cutlet or vegetable filling. The origin of the dish is unclear; it is claimed by both the Southern regions of Campania and Sicily and by the Northern province of Parma.

While the true meaning of the word Parmigiana is “in the style of Parma,” the term often gets confused with the cheese that we know—Parmigiano-Reggiano; however, there is no correlation. Though Eggplant Parmesan began in Italy—Northern or Southern—this dish is not commonly found in current Italian cuisine; the concept of Parmigiana, in this sense (breaded veggies or protein baked with layers of cheese and sauce), is considered more of an Italian American classic. But Eggplant Parmesan was just the beginning for the U.S. Since its first appearance “parms” have shown up on every menu, involving such ingredients as: chicken breasts, veal cutlets, zucchini and even, pork.

The dish consists of sliced ingredients, pan-fried in oil, layered with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven. In some versions, the sliced filling is first dipped in beaten eggs and dredged in flour or bread crumbs before frying. Some recipes use hard grated cheeses such as Parmigiano, while others use softer melting cheeses like mozzarella, or a combination of these.

Variations made with breaded meat cutlets, such as veal and chicken, have been popularized in other countries, usually in areas of Italian immigration. In the United States and Canada, veal parmigiana or chicken parmigiana is often served as an entrée and, sometimes, is served as a submarine sandwich. It is also popular with a side of or on top of pasta. Diced onions or green bell peppers are sometimes added. The veal dish is known in Italian as Cotolette alla Bolognese.

Veal or chicken parmigiana is a common dish in Australia and Argentina and in both countries often served with a side of chips or a salad. In Australia, it may also contain a variety of toppings, including sliced ham or fried eggplant (aubergine) slices. This dish is often referred to as a parmy or parma. In Argentina and in other neighboring South American countries, veal or chicken parmigiana is topped with ham and served with french fries. It is known as milanesa a la napolitana. If the dish is topped with a fried egg, then it is known as a súper milanesa or suprema napolitana. The origin of the dish was the Napoli restaurant in Buenos Aires during the 1940s. A similar dish, the parmo, which uses either pork or chicken, is found in England.

To make any “parm” dish well, you need a good marinara sauce. I have included the recipe in this post along with some of my family’s favorite parm dishes.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 large basil leaves

Directions

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil, until soft and translucent, on medium to low heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden, careful not to overcook.

Add tomatoes, oregano and crushed red pepper to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and cover with a lid. Cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. Stir in parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the fresh basil.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups of sauce.

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Eggplant Parmesan

This is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation. Additionally, I do not fry the eggplant, but bake it in the oven to reduce the calories.

First Stage

I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.

For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:

  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters) or egg whites
  • 1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker).  You want them to be thin.

Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs mixed with the cheese in another.

Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 10-15 minutes longer.

If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a ziplock freezer bag.  Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.

Second Stage

To assemble the casserole, you will need:

Spray an  8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

  • 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see recipe above)
  • 1-8 ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 package of breaded and baked eggplant

Directions

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.

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Chicken or Veal or Fish Parmigiana

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten lightly or egg whites or egg substitute
  • 2 chicken breasts, halved or about 1 pound veal cutlets or firm white fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups Homemade Marinara, recipe above
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 4-8 slices of mozzarella cheese

Directions

Combine bread crumbs, parsley, 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Place bread crumb mixture, flour and eggs in three separate dishes. First, dredge chicken breast halves (or veal/fish cutlets) in flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip in beaten eggs and, like the flour, making sure to let any excess drip off. Finally, dredge in breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Allow breaded cutlets to rest for a few minutes on a plate before frying.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Fry chicken or veal until golden. Be sure to turn for even cooking, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from hot oil and onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

To bake, preheat oven to 375˚F. Spread about 1 cup of Marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Arrange a layer of breaded cutlets on top of the sauce. Top with 1 cup of Marinara, covering each piece. Sprinkle with Parmigiano. Place 1 to 2 slices of mozzarella on each cutlet.

Cover dish with foil and bake, 15 to 20 minutes, or until bubbling. Uncover, then bake to fully melt cheese for another 5 minutes.

Serves 4

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Shrimp  Parmigiana

For 2 servings you will need the following:

Ingredients

  • 12 large shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/3 cup Italian Style Panko Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup homemade marinara sauce, warmed
  • 1 cup (4 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a baking dish that fits the portion of shrimp you are making with cooking spray.

Place the egg beaters in a shallow bowl and the Panko bread crumbs mixed with the Parmigiano cheese in another.

Wash and dry the shrimp. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Put the shrimp in the bowl with the egg beaters to coat and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Place in the baking dish.

The shrimp can be prepared ahead up to this point.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Drizzle the top of the shrimp with the olive oil and bake on the middle oven rack for 10 minutes. Turn shrimp over then cook another 5  minutes.  Pour sauce evenly over the shrimp and then sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and heat just until the cheese melts.

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Meatball Parmesan Subs

These are especially popular with children for a birthday party.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/4 lbs lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 recipe Marinara sauce, recipe above
  • 12 small hoagie buns or firm hot dog rolls, split and warmed
  • 12 slices (one ounce each) mozzarella cheese, cut in half

Directions

Heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further two minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.

Once the onion mixture has cooled, add the beef or turkey, bread crumbs, egg, salt and parsley and mix thoroughly. Using wet hands, shape tablespoons of the meatball mixture into 1 ½ inch balls and then transfer to a baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Bake the meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Turn over halfway through baking.

Add the baked meatballs to the marinara sauce and heat.

To make the sandwiches:

Spoon the hot meatballs with some sauce over the bottoms of the rolls. Place a slice of mozzarella, cut in half, over the meatballs. Spread a little more sauce over the meatballs, then fold the tops of the rolls over and serve.

The sandwiches can be assembled and wrapped individually in foil. Rewarm the sandwiches in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes before serving.

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Cauliflower Parmesan

The New York Times article contained a recipe for Cauliflower Parmesan and it inspired me to create this healthy version. I made this dish over the Christmas holidays for family and they loved it.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups homemade  marinara sauce, recipe above
  • 1 head of fresh cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Heat a large, deep oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the  pan and heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in sauce and cauliflower and cook until cauliflower is just tender.

Preheat the broiler

Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmigiano cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the bread crumbs and broil until the cheese melts..

 

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