The arc of Nancy Silverton's career, which she began as a pastry chef under Wolfgang Puck at Spago in 1982, has been punctuated by several eureka moments, not least of which was a lunch she prepared for Jeremiah Tower in the early 2000s at her home just outside the small medieval town of Panicale, in Umbria.
Tower was duly impressed by Silverton's bite-sized appetizer portions pairing fresh local burrata, mozzarella and ricotta with various ingredients including pesto, tapenade, toasted almonds, confit garlic and anchovies. The California-cuisine pioneer steered his hostess in the direction of Obicà, a recently opened sushi bar–style restaurant in Rome, where the headliner was mozzarella instead of raw fish. The concept inspired Silverton's Osteria Mozza, which she launched in 2007, in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. At Mozza, she earned a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, published The Mozza Cookbook (in which the sauce recipe below appears) in 2011 and, in 2014, won the James Beard Foundation Award as America's most outstanding chef.
When asked to come up with a Parmigiana recipe for Wine Spectator, Silverton returned to the bite-sized appetizer approach and tweaked the cheese element, substituting a rich Fontina-based sauce (Fonduta Cream) for the mozzarella. It's a relatively light yet nevertheless deliciously savory take on an Italian-American classic. The featured ingredients are attractive, thumb-sized Fairytale eggplants; regular globe eggplants can be substituted if Fairytales aren't available.
David Gibbons is co-author of Mastering Cheese.
Nancy Silverton's Eggplant Parmigiana
16 Fairytale eggplants or 4 small globe eggplants (about 1 pound each)
Extra-virgin olive oil for coating and drizzling
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups Torn Croutons (recipe follows)
Fonduta Cream (recipe follows)
1 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for grating
Fresh basil leaves, torn or rough-chopped, for garnish
Basic Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
Black pepper, finely ground
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 medium-size carrot, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, add the carrot and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring often, for 30 minutes. Pass the sauce through a food mill into a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 loaf rustic white bread (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), torn into 1/2-inch chunks
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Sauté garlic over medium heat until fragrant (do not brown). Toss oil, garlic, salt and bread in a bowl to coat evenly. Bake croutons at 350˚ F, until golden-brown and crunchy.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplants with extra-virgin olive oil and salt.
For Fairytale eggplants: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lay the eggplants on a sheet pan and bake until soft and collapsing on themselves, about 30 minutes.
For globe eggplants: Preheat the oven to 400° F and remove the lower racks. Lay the eggplants on a sheet pan, place the sheet pan on the bottom of the oven and bake until the skin is charred, the flesh is soft and it collapses almost flat, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
8 ounces Fontina Val d'Aosta, shredded
4 heaping tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Place a double boiler over medium-high heat. Whisk the egg yolks in the top portion, add the milk and continue to whisk until hot to the touch.
2. Add the Fontina in three or four batches, whisking so it is well-incorporated. Continue to whisk regularly until mixture is thickened to the consistency of pastry cream or Jell-O pudding, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. Set up an ice bath.
4. Stir Parmigiano into the cream in batches until fully incorporated. Remove from heat and place in a metal container in the ice bath to cool; it will thicken further.
1. Slit the eggplants from stem to bottom, baked potato–style. Season lightly with salt and drizzle with olive oil.
2. Warm the tomato sauce and spoon a layer of it into each eggplant. Add a layer of croutons and a dollop Fonduta Cream on top. Garnish with finely grated Parmigiano and fresh basil leaves. Serve 4 Fairytale or 1 globe eggplant per portion.