This is one of my all-time favourite vegetarian Italian dishes – a true classic.
400-gram tin chopped plum tomatoes in juice
400-gram tin pureed and sieved tomatoes or passata
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
2 teaspoons caster sugar
50ml red wine
¼–⅓ cup olive oil
2–3 eggplants (about 800 grams), ends trimmed and cut into ½–1cm slices
200 grams firm mozzarella, grated
80 grams parmesan cheese, grated
⅓ cup basil leaves, torn
60 grams buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks
sea salt and black pepper
Cook the tomatoes and juices in a medium-sized saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the garlic, chilli flakes, sugar and wine and season to taste. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes until reduced and thickened.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the eggplant slices for a couple of minutes each side, over a medium-high heat, until soft and cooked through. Repeat until all of the eggplant is cooked.
There is a fine line between dry, tasteless eggplant, and mushy, oily eggplant – the trick is to keep the pan fairly hot, then do not be tempted to add more oil all the time. You want to end up with slices that are cooked through, moist and tasty.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Lightly brush the base and sides of a 24cm round oven dish with olive oil. Start with a very thin layer of tomato sauce, followed by snug slices of eggplant topped with grated mozzarella, a good sprinkling of parmesan, then basil leaves, and salt and pepper.
Repeat layers finishing with tomato sauce, a sprinkling of grated mozzarella and parmesan and the buffalo mozzarella dotted over the top. Cook for 30 minutes, then allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving with a big green salad.