Skip to main content

Why chocolate is the must-add ingredient for the perfect eggplant parmesan

This is why you shouldn't save the chocolate for dessert

Cucina Alba dining room.
The dining room of Cucina Alba. Peter Murdock / Le CollectiveM

Eggplant parmesan, or Parmigiana, is one of the most popular and tastiest Italian foods. But what if there was an eggplant parmesan recipe that adds an intriguing ingredient to this familiar dish? At Cucina Alba, an elegant Italian restaurant in New York City, Executive Chef Adam Leonti does exactly that, adding the unique ingredient of bitter dark chocolate and elevating this classic to another level.

How to make eggplant parmesan with chocolate

Eggplant parmesan is one of the most popular eggplant recipes: pieces of fried eggplant are smothered with tomato sauce, tasty parmesan cheese, and creamy mozzarella cheese. However, the addition of dark chocolate adds a surprisingly sweet flavor to the rich creaminess of the ricotta. The inspiration for this sweetness? Chef Leonti states that the sweet and savory flavors of Naples eggplant dishes were the source.

“This dish was built from a desire to reinvigorate classics,” explained Chef Leonti. “This dish, composed of eggplant, Parmesan custard, Parmigiano, tomato sugo, ricotta, chocolate, basil, and lemon zest, strikes a delicate balance between traditional and contemporary styles through the use of familiar and unexpected flavors.”

Cucina alba Eggplant Parmigiana.
The Eggplant Parmigiana at Cucina Alba. Liz Clayman / Le CollectiveM

Chef Leonti’s Eggplant Parmigiana

Serving size: 6-8 servings (full format dish that is individually portioned)

This dish also perfectly aligns with Cucina Alba’s playful concept — Vacation Italian. “Cucina Alba as a concept touches on all aspects of a dreamy getaway,” explained Chef Leonti. “Whether it be Cinque, Amalfi, Florence, or elsewhere, these familiar destinations work together to bring vibrancy to the menu in an organic way.”


For Eggplant:

  • 3 large eggplant
  • Semolina
  • Salt

For Custard:

  • 16 eggs
  • 2 quarts heavy cream
  • 5 cups grated parm
  • Nutmeg and salt to taste

For Chocolate Ricotta:

  • 8 cups ricotta
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate, small chunks
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

For Pomodoro:

  • 4 cloves of garlic toasted
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 #10 can of San Marzano tomatoes (106 ounces)
  • Salt to taste

For Terrines assembly:

  • Mozzarella, small dice
  • Grated parmigiano


  1. To prepare eggplant, slice thin on the mandoline or deli slicer, lengthwise. Salt both sides, then dredge in semolina and fry at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until firm.
  2. For custard, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer, then add small amounts to the eggs while whisking until the eggs are properly tempered. Whisk in the Parmigiano. Over a double boiler, heat the egg, cheese, and cream mixture until it reaches 160 F, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and transfer to quart containers to cool.
  3. For chocolate ricotta, combine all ingredients and whisk until mixed. 
  4. To cook pomodoro, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add San Marzano tomatoes and simmer until thick.
  5. For the final terrine assembly, line the terrines with plastic wrap, then using the approved method, build the terrines by alternating layers of eggplant, custard, and cheese. Each layer will require 4-6 ounces of custard, and be sure to fill all the gaps. Cover the Terrines in plastic wrap, then foil. Set steam oven (pan with water) to 266f F and cook until internal temp is 157 F. Set aside to cool. To serve, crisp terrine slices in a cast iron pan, place pomodoro as you see fit, and garnish with ricotta, lemon zest, and basil.

Editors' Recommendations

Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
Listen to the experts: Here’s how to make the perfect Paloma drink
Want to make the best version of a classic Paloma cocktail? Here's how
Paloma cocktail

Step aside margarita, the Paloma is the real drink of Mexico. The zesty cocktail is delicious any month of the year, but it's especially mouthwatering on a hot day. In a situation such as this, we like to pick the wise brains of cocktail gurus like Alicia Perry and Garret Dostal. Perry used to make incredible drinks at Polite Provisions and last we heard, works as a drinks guru at Consortium Holdings. Garrett Dostal is a cocktail consultant and brand ambassador for Hiatus Tequila.

"In terms of the Paloma cocktail, I am really looking for a cocktail that is juicy, acidic, and thirst quenching," Perry said. She adds that there are three major components at play -- the tequila for the Paloma, citrus, and soda. "In the process of creating my perfect Paloma I found that specific Blanco Tequilas were either too dominant, or were not able to stand up to the ingredients of the cocktail," she stated. "Fortaleza Blanco allowed for subtle notes of citrus, agave, and vanilla to be well represented in the cocktail."

Read more
Chef Zac Young’s clever bourbon chocolate cake recipe is whimsical winter perfection on a plate
We love this new-school bourbon chocolate cake recipe
Zac Young's Bourbon Chocolate Stumps

We’re willing to gamble that celebrity Chef Zac Young needs no introduction. Between his frequent appearances on popular cooking shows like Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, and Worst Cooks in America, and his enormous adoration and success due to his creation of the famous holiday phenomenon, the PieCaken, Chef Young is a pretty big deal this time of year. The original PieCaken alone - one indulgent dessert encompassing pumpkin pie, pecan pie, spice cake, apple pie, cinnamon buttercream, and oat crumble all at once - makes Young the King of holiday desserts in our book. Now, he’s at it again with a gorgeously festive bourbon chocolate cake that he’s created just for The Manual.

We love the fun, whimsical play on the traditional yule log, or Bûche de Noël - a traditional French dessert that’s served at Christmastime - of these little cakes. Unlike a Bûche de Noël, however, these Christmas treats are extremely simple to make and can be done in just a few minutes with no need for fancy decorating skills or expensive pastry tools. Just a cupcake tin, some simple ingredients, and a bottle of bourbon (we told you it was good). We adore Chef Young’s boozy dessert recipes. The green velvet cake recipe he gave us for St. Patrick’s Day (which would also be absolutely gorgeous as a Christmas dessert) is spiked with Guinness and is one of our very favorite recipes.

Read more
Easy appetizers: This is the secret ingredient you need for the holidays
It's good for dessert, too
Phyllo pastries

At long last, the holiday season is very nearly drawing to a close. This is bittersweet for most of us who love the sparkle and merriment but are also looking forward to the clean slate of a New Year. This week, though, most of us are still in the thick of it. This is usually the week we scramble. Scramble for last-minute gifts, scramble to find something at 6 a.m. that will pass as reindeer antlers for our kid's accursed dress-up week, and scramble to find delicious, easy recipes that will please everyone around the table. If you find yourself in this camp with the rest of us, frantically scrolling your phone for quick and easy appetizers, we're here to help. The answer can be found in the freezer section, and is sure to be an enormous hit - phyllo dough.

You may be familiar with baklava, the traditional Greek dessert for which phyllo is so famous, but this flaky pastry is so much more than baklava.

Read more