Sunday, 14 June 2009

Melanzane parmigiana

Griddling hell. The production line...

Get thee to the kitchen woman...Shuna Fish slaving over the hot Aga

Bay leaf carnaroli rice pudding

Wild asparagus and pea cress found in Portobello rd market. Who needs Borough?

I love chicory or endives as they are called in French. Endives in Britain are a curly bitter frisée lettuce. One year I will grow them, forcing them in covered pots. They are the vegetable equivalent of veal, albino babies grown in the dark.

Last minute inspiration, parmesan and poppy seed crackers from the Ottolenghi cookbook. Make your dough, flavoured with Parmesan.

Roll the chilled dough sausages in poppy seed then slice n bake. None of us in the kitchen could keep our hands off these. Very moreish.

More last minute inspiration, chopping preserved lemons and caramelising pine nuts to add to the goat yoghurt granita.

Goat yoghurt granita decorated with torn basil.

A crowded night. Souls who braved the terrible transport problems.

Chicory, wild asparagus and pea cress salad, dressed.

Ali, front of house, whose apron matches my plates. Together the plates look like a quilt.

Melanzane parmigiana. It ain't pretty but it sure does taste good.

Shuna Fish Lydon's gorgeous dessert: bay leaf carnaroli rice pudding stuffed into profiteroles, on a bed of strawberry, tarragon, mint, rosemary salad with demerara sugar. I loved the combination of this 'sweet' family of fresh herbs with fruit.

Some dishes you never see on restaurant menus...melanzane parmigiana is one of them. Why? Because it takes so damn long to make. Friday, I spent nine hours making the dish, six of the hours frying the slices of aubergine. After about three hours I lost the will to live. My ankles were swelling. I was covered in a thin film of olive oil. Resorting to the Keith Floyd school of classic cooking, I'd started to drink. It was the only way. Such is my dedication.
I was taught this dish by my great grandmother, Nanny Savino. A small rectangular scary woman in black, she dominated the whole family whilst alive and her spirit still looms.
Melanzane parmigiana is a misnomer actually.

Anna Pomar writes in La Cucina tradizionale siciliana... "This is an ancient Sicilian dish which, in all cookbooks it is erroneously stated that the dish obtains its name from parmesan cheese which is one of the ingredients. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The name "parmigiana" does not derive from that of the cheese but is the Italianization of the Sicilian dialectic word "parmiciana" which are the slats of wood which compose the central part of a shutter and overlap in the same manner as the slices of eggplant in the dish."

My great grandmother fried each slice of aubergine in batter, then layered it in a dish with reduced tomato and garlic sauce and covered the lot with mozzarella. I also used parmesan cheese between each layer this time, plenty of basil in the sauce and griddled the slices rather than fry them in batter. Large, purple and glossy, small, white and eggshaped (from whence came the American name 'eggplant'), small and violet (found in Indian shops) or even pea-sized and green (found in Asian shops) I think the aubergine is my favourite vegetable. It's so versatile, the steak of the vegetarian world. One of my guests tonight, from Scotland, had never eaten aubergine before. Apparently it's hard to get hold of in Scotland.
There were a few changes to the menu...the basil jelly didn't quite work. You need water to make gelatine set and basil prefers oil. Inspired by my visit to 'Ottolenghi' last week, we came up with an alternative flavouring for the goat yoghurt granita; diced preserved lemon and caramelised pine-nuts. Shuna likes to live dangerously. At half past six I still didn't know what to write on the menu for dessert. Every so often she would go for little breathers in the garden to garner inspiration. But the wait was worth it.
I had 35 people booked but only 32 came. I don't know what happened to the others...and two helpful girls brought their own chairs. They went out on the lash in Kilburn afterwards, carting these fold-down chairs with them. Handy!
Most weeks a couple of my guests bring me a present...chocolates, flowers and this time...a self-help book 'The power of now' from a man who repeatedly cuddled me saying "Loving your work". Which is nice. I often need a cuddle at the end of the evening. The book is going in the toilet. Will leaf through whilst on throne.
Another thing that guests like is the 'notice board' on my teen's bedroom door. They can read it while queuing for the toilet...cartoons, stickers for The Smiths, her application to Westminster police for a one person 'chav reduction' protest, newspaper stories on Russell Brand, Withnail, micro-chipping, G20 protests, UFO's and all the other interests she has...picture to come.
In addition to Ali, mentioned above, thanks also to Lenny of Brasserie Malmaison for bringing her managerial front of house skills to The Underground Restaurant. She can carry about 30 plates on each fingertip and makes it all look so easy. In fact us girls were the dream team...


  1. aubergine/eggplant hard to get hold of in scotland?!! utter tosh! lived there most of my life and used to eat it all the time. did yer scottish guest live in a cave? looked like a fab nite in any case. ;-}

  2. ooh very interesting fact about the melanzane parmigiana. I managed to get a recipe for it from my Italian friend after a couple of years of trying - he's invited me over to show me the family recipe. I am very excited! I know what you mean about not seeing it on menus though. Donna Margarita in battersea does it but that is the only place I've seen it. Noted the wild asparagus too! It seems we both discovered it at the same time. I must check out that market - although Borough is close for me.

  3. p.s shuna's dessert looks amazing - forgot to say that!

  4. I agree with Kelsie and mel, aubergine is easy to get hold of in Scotland. It all looks amazing though :)

  5. Wow, looks like a complex menu!

    Do you really allow gelatine on your menu though?? Thought it was veggie with fish?

  6. I love melanzane parmigiana - a great dish - so tasty! Didn't realise you could get wild asparagus - where do you find that and how does it taste?! xxx

  7. well I have to admit I think I eat Gelatine wine gums...
    wild asparagus...found it in Portobello rd market...a surprise. It's quite nice. Looks like a weed.

  8. A while since I made the aubergine dish it really is good - who needs meat?

    Awesome dessert.

  9. Eating it when you're out and not thinking about it is one thing... but having it in your kitchen?

  10. Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

  11. Hey - I am definitely delighted to discover this. great job!


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)