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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.”

Ingredients:

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

Method:

  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.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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