Forget those dowdy restaurant concoctions of generation ago. Homemade Parmigiana is light and wonderfully intense in flavor as the eggplant slices are baked with a brushing of oil rather than fried, and the tomatoes are only lightly cooked to a purée.
3 medium eggplants (about 900 g/2 lb)
175 ml/¾ cup olive oil for brushing, more if needed
125 g/1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
250 g/1 cup mozzarella cheese, sliced
For the tomato purée
1.35 kg/3 lb plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Small bunch of basil
30 cm/8 in square baking dish
1. Heat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Trim the eggplants and cut them in 1 cm/3/8 in slices. Brush two baking sheets generously with oil, add the eggplant rounds and brush them also. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, bake them in the oven until the slices are brown underneath, 12-15 minutes. Turn them, brush again with oil and brown the other side, 7-10 minutes longer.
2. Meanwhile, make the tomato purée: Halve the tomatoes crosswise and squeeze out the seeds (if you like, sieve the seeds, and add the juice to the purée). Coarsely chop the flesh, discarding the cores. Heat the oil in a skillet or shallow saucepan and add the tomatoes, with salt and pepper. To form a purée that just falls easily from the spoon, cook them, stirring often for 20-25 minutes. Chop the basil leaves, reserving sprigs for decoration. Stir the leaves into the tomato sauce, taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Oil the baking dish and arrange a third of the eggplant slices in it. Sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan cheese and add a layer of half the mozzarella; top with half the tomato sauce. Continue with layers of eggplant, cheese, and tomato, ending with a layer of eggplant sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little oil.
4. Bake the Parmigiana in the oven until very hot, browned, and the mozzarella cheese has melted, 25-35 minutes. Decorate with basil sprigs when serving.