When most people (outside of Italy) think of Italian food, they probably think of pizza and pasta. But in reality, Italian cuisine is significantly more complex, featuring a wide array of tastes from right across Italy’s regions. While much of the country’s cuisine is Mediterranean in character, dishes from the North and the mountainous interior are not considered to be and can differ significantly.
One ingredient that you may not necessarily associate with Italian dishes is the humble eggplant. Known in Italian as melanzane, with its soft, creamy texture and mild flavor, it’s a feature of many Italian recipes. It’s particularly good as a meat substitute if you’re looking for vegetarian recipes, though it is often eaten with meat as well.
If you’re interested in trying some authentic Italian eggplant dishes, you’re in the right place. You’ll find these classic creations at some of the best restaurants in Italy. But we’re going to run through 15 awesome Italian eggplant recipes that you can make at home. One note before we begin; if you see the word “aubergine” in some of these recipes, don’t worry. That’s just the British English term for eggplant.
The classic parmigiana, known as the parmesan in the English-speaking world, is a traditional southern Italian dish claimed by several regions, including Calabria, Sicily, and Campania.
It’s enjoyed nowadays all across Italy and around the world; in fact, if you were to ask an Italian to name an Italian eggplant dish, they’d almost certainly name the parmigiana!
So what is a parmigiana? In essence, it’s layers of sliced (normally fried) eggplant with alternating layers of creamy cheese and tomato sauce, which is then baked in the oven.
It’s a simple, tasty, and wholesome recipe that’s versatile enough to be paired with a range of side dishes. Oh, and it’s freezable too, so you can always save a few portions for later!
Pasta Alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian dish, typical of the Catania region. It is said to be named after the Catania native Vincenzo Bellini, composer of the opera Norma.
The beauty of Pasta alla Norma is in its simplicity, consisting only of tossed sliced eggplant and pasta (usually spaghetti) served with a rich tomato sauce and topped with grated ricotta salata cheese. The eggplant is normally fried, but you can sauté it as called for in this recipe if you prefer to avoid frying food. The end result is a delicious vegetarian meal that can be prepared in about forty-five minutes.
If Sicily were an independent country, caponata would undoubtedly be its national dish. It’s certainly considered by many to be the region’s signature dish, which is fitting given how well it encapsulates Sicilian cuisine and culture more broadly. Just like Sicily itself, caponata incorporates influences from Spain and the Arab world, and is a mixture of several different ingredients.
This recipe is the classic, vegetarian version of the dish eaten by ordinary Sicilians, best described as a tasty eggplant, pine nut, tomato, and celery salad, although there is more to the dish than that! In the past, wealthy Sicilians threw in pear slices, fish, and even octopus. You’re welcome to add ingredients by all means, as long as you try this Sicilian classic!
Eggplants are a pretty big deal in some parts of Italy. This is particularly true of Calabria, the rugged peninsula that makes up the ‘toe’ of the ‘boot’ of Italy. There, eggplants are a cornerstone ingredient in several traditional Italian eggplant recipes, from side snacks to main courses.
Melanzane Ripiene is pretty simple, but a staple of the region. It sees the eggplants stuffed with a bread and cheese filling, smothered generously with tomato passata and baked until tender. This version of the dish is vegetarian, but it varies significantly even within the region, with a stuffing of minced beef and pork more common in southern parts.
Italian cuisine shares some similarities with that of its neighbors, and you can really see it in this dish hailing from Basilicata. Ciammotta, commonly known as giambotta in other regions, is a summer favorite right across Southern Italy. It’s similar in composition to ratatouille; a stew of Mediterranean vegetables cooked slowly with tomatoes and topped off with basil. This vegan dish is perfectly good on its own merits, but it can also be served as a side with meat or fish.
If you’re looking for that authentic Italian touch, be sure to add peperoni cruschi, which is a cornerstone ingredient used to flavor many dishes in the Basilicata region.
Sicily isn’t the only Italian island with a rich history of cooking using Eggplants. Sardinia too, which came under many of the same influences historically, also uses eggplants in its cuisine. One of the signature dishes of Sassari, Sardinia’s second city, is Melanzane Alla Sassarese, which is basically just oven-roasted eggplant with toppings. In essence, this dish is just that, except with extra toppings that are extra tasty. The end result is a meaty baked eggplant stuffed full with tomato, garlic, and pecorino. What’s not to like?
This side dish is a great example of how Italian food differs from region to region and has not been solely influenced by ‘Mediterranean cuisine’. Thought to originate in the Balkans and popular in neighboring Slovenia, Ajvar is a common sight across the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region. It’s a delicious red pepper and eggplant chutney, which is used for dipping cold meats.
Interestingly, Ajvar is thought to get its name from the Turkish word for Caviar, suggesting it might have its origins as a cheaper alternative. Others think the consistency is somewhat like caviar, making it ‘eggplant caviar’- hence the name.
Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic Italian dish that many of us will have enjoyed at home growing up. It’s simple, and it’s tasty. But what do you do if you’ve gone vegetarian and can’t eat meat anymore? Thankfully, you can take inspiration from the Italians. Eggplant is a great substitute for meat, and the Italians of the past quickly worked that out. The traditional southern Italian dish polpettine di melanzane was the Italian solution to the problem when meat was scarce, and you can make them at home, too!
Risotto might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Italian cuisine, but it’s a fantastic, wholesome Italian dish! Traditionally eaten as a winter dish in northern Italy, this version is much more appropriate for the summer. You can almost taste the Mediterranean in it! Bursting with juicy tomato and tasty eggplant, this risotto recipe manages to be both summery and wholesome at the same time.
Eggplant rollatini is another traditional Italian dish that is perfect for a simple, wholesome vegetarian dinner. In essence, it’s thinly sliced eggplant that has been seasoned with a ricotta cheese mixture and then rolled up and baked. When baked with sauce the dish is similar to parmesan or even lasagna, or they can be baked dry and eaten as finger food depending on your preference. Although the dish is authentically Italian, ‘rollatini’ is an invention and not an Italian word. In Italy, the dish is known as “involtini di melanzane.”
This recipe is something a little different. You probably don’t think of eggplant when you think of antipasti, which are traditionally cured meats, olives, breads, and cheeses. But look no further than this recipe for marinated Italian eggplant in olive oil the next time you want something to nibble on before a main course. It’s delicious, and about as authentically Italian as you can get!
The Caprese salad is a traditional Italian dish in the colors of the flag. Red for tomatoes, white for mozzarella cheese, with green being represented by the basil. This Italian eggplant recipe is a slight twist on the summer classic, with all the tomatoey, cheesy, olive oily goodness of a Caprese being served atop a roasted eggplant.
Although a Caprese salad is traditionally served as a starter, this recipe makes the perfect side dish for any summer gathering, and is sure to be hit with your guests! They can even be eaten more or less as an eggplant taco, if you don’t mind getting your fingers dirty.
This recipe consists of diced eggplant simmered in a garlicky tomato sauce alongside spinach, gnocchi, melted mozzarella bites, and basil. This is a vegetarian meal that can get even the most die-hard meat eaters coming back for more. This makes it the perfect dish for anyone trying to cut a little meat out of their diet.
If you’re looking for a simple, light lunch, then this could be the Italian eggplant recipe for you. All it is is olive oil, chopped eggplant, garlic, and parsley tossed together with bucatini.
With a total preparation time of thirty-five minutes, it’s perfect for lunch hour. You’ll be eating like a real Italian, too. The recipe is one of the very first things the author was served for lunch by her Italian mother-in-law whilst in Italy.
This dish is traditional to Marche, a central region of Italy that looks out over the Adriatic Sea. It is often overlooked, especially when it comes to cuisine. Nonetheless, Marche boasts a unique cuisine of its own. One of the region’s signature dishes is the traditional fritto misto Marchigiano, which is a mixed platter of fried bites. A core part of this offering is the ‘verdure fritte’, or fried vegetables. They are typically made by being rolled in flour before being soaked in beaten eggs and then fried. The vegetables used typically depend on what’s in season, but eggplants are a common component.
FAQs on Italian Eggplant Recipes
What are the best Italian eggplant recipes?
The three most popular eggplant (melanzane) recipes in Italy are the classic Parmigiana, Sicilian Caponata, and Pasta alla Norma.
What is the Eggplant Parmesan recipe?
The classic parmigiana is a traditional southern Italian dish claimed by several regions, including Calabria, Sicily, and Campania. It consists layers of sliced (normally fried) eggplant with alternating layers of creamy cheese and tomato sauce, which is then baked in the oven.
What is Sicilian Caponata?
Just like Sicily itself, caponata incorporates influences from Spain and the Arab world, and is a mixture of several different ingredients.
This classic version of the dish eaten by ordinary Sicilians might be described as a tasty eggplant, pine nut, tomato, and celery salad. In the past, wealthy Sicilians threw in pear slices, fish, and even octopus.
What is Pasta alla Norma?
Pasta alla Norma is a traditional Sicilian dish, typical of the Catania region. It is said to be named after the Catania native Vincenzo Bellini, composer of the opera Norma.
The beauty of pasta alla Norma is in its simplicity, consisting only of tossed sliced eggplant and pasta (usually spaghetti) served with a rich tomato sauce and topped with grated ricotta salata cheese.