Recipe: Preheat the oven to 160C, gas 3, place a ceramic oven dish for serving the melanzane in the oven to get hot. If using rice, follow the instruction on the pack. Put two frying pans on medium high heat. Cut the aubergines into round discs 15mm thick and put into the pan without oil. Let them cook turning occasionally until they are browned on each side – this will take about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, start the sauce, put a large and small heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat. Chop the shallots and garlic and add to the pan with 2 tbs of good olive oil. Fry for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the stock, passata and oregano and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 10 minutes, chop 15g of the basil and add to the sauce and stir. Transfer the aubergines into a single pan, and carefully pour over the tomato sauce. Keep the heat up on the pan and cook for 5 minutes turning the aubergine through the sauce.
Take out the dish from the oven and then turn the oven to its maximum setting. Turn the grill on high. Using a spatula and spoon create layers of aubergine and sauce adding half the mozzarella between the layers. When the layers are complete ensure all the sauce has been transferred to the dish. Add a final layer of mozzarella and sprinkle the parmesan over the top and grill for 5 minutes until brown and bubbling. Put the dish into the oven and turn off the heat. Leave it to rest whilst you finish any other parts of the meal. Serve with rice or crusty bread and salad and garnish with more basil.
Tips: The trick to this recipe is using dry frying pans. Aubergines will absorb any amount of oil and if frying in oil they will become very heavy and greasy. My normal way round this is to brush the slices with oil lightly and bake in the oven on a high heat. Now I have devised this method I think it is a better way to cook the aubergines, it’s healthier because it does not use quantities of oil.
Optional ingredients: Bay leaves add a good background flavour – add a couple during the onion frying. White wine will add flavour and useful acidity add with the tomato passata. Using stock is important for this recipe. You can save a lot of time by buying ready-made tomato sauce. Either use homemade, ready-made from a store, a tin of chicken consomme, or a stock cube to make-up a stock (follow the instructions and adjust extra salt to taste – most cubes are very salty).
Notes: This method relies on cooking all the aubergines at once. The two large frying pans used are just about right for two people. If you need to cook for four, then cook the aubergines in stages and layer the aubergines and sauce directly into the baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180C, Gas4, then finish under the grill if necessary.
Finessing the recipe: This is great as it is. Serve with green vegetables or salad, good crusty bread and extra grated parmesan.