As you can tell from the lasagna of a few posts ago and now this dish, my mother has been busy cooking of late. It’s not that we’ve got her chained to the stove or anything, it’s just that this time of year is the showcase for so many of her very best recipes. Garden fresh tomatoes make the best puree for her lasagna and now, the pint-sized eggplant making their first appearances of the summer are perfect for a much-loved family dish: stuffed and fried eggplant.
Like so many of our treasured family recipes, my mother learned to make this from her own mother. My grandmother’s stuffed eggplant were legendary and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to watch her prepare them many times. Too often, especially when we’re young, we tend to ignore the rituals of the kitchen and as a result, watch helplessly as so many precious culinary traditions fall by the wayside. Happily, this will not happen with stuffed eggplant!
As with all traditional family dishes, this isn’t exactly a snap to make but believe me when I say the time and effort are worth it. The ingredients are very simple. You start with beautifully purple-skinned baby eggplant that are sliced in half and boiled until the flesh is soft. Once the eggplant have cooled, the flesh is carefully removed from the skin so as to leave the skin intact. To the flesh of those eggplant is added cheese, breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. The flesh is then stuffed back into the eggplant skins and the entire lot is fried. I dare you not to eat more than one!
When choosing the eggplant for this dish, be sure to choose ones that are firm, purple and without marks on the skin. The eggplant should be about 5 to 6 inches in length. A useful tip that we’ve picked up from Alice Waters’ incredibly helpful Chez Panisse Vegetables is that eggplant should not be refrigerated (something we used to do all the time). Waters recommends keeping eggplant in a cool place in the house if you’re not going to use them right away. The practice of salting eggplant to draw out bitterness is not necessary here.
My mother made a huge batch of these for a recent family party and they were gone in minutes. We sometimes wonder if it’s worth all the work when the end result is devoured so quickly. But when we think about the continuation of this family dish and how much pleasure it brings to all of us, the efforts are so worth it!
Treasured family recipe.
- 8 small eggplant
- 1 large eggplant (the flesh of this eggplant is added to the flesh of the small eggplant)
- 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 1-1/2 cups Crotonese cheese, freshly grated
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2-1/2 teaspoons salt
- vegetable oil
- Wash and dry eggplant. Cut in half lengthwise and place in a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water (the water should cover the eggplant) and bring to a boil.
- Once the water boils, lower the heat to medium and cook the eggplant for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, test that the eggplant are done by removing one and with a fork, see if the flesh separates easily from the skin. If so, the eggplant are ready. Remove from the heat and add cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Carefully drain the eggplant and leave in a colander until the eggplant are cool enough to handle.
- Once they have cooled, carefully remove all of the flesh from the eggplant skin, being sure not to tear the skin. Put the eggplant flesh in a colander to drain and place the skins, cut side down, in one layer on paper towels to drain and dry.
- After 30 minutes, take the eggplant flesh and squeeze out any excess liquid.
- Place the flesh on a cutting board and with a knife, roughly chop the flesh until it’s been chopped into very small pieces. Place the flesh in a large bowl.
- To the bowl, add the breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs, parsley, garlic, pepper and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined. Taste a bit of the mixture and adjust the seasoning according to your own tastes.
- Turn the eggplant skins so that the cut side is facing up. With a spoon, measure out a few scoopfuls of flesh into each eggplant skin. This is a way to ensure that the flesh is evenly divided between the skins before you stuff them. Once this is done, you can begin fashioning the stuffed eggplant.
- Pick up each skin and smooth out the flesh so that it fully fills each eggplant skin.
- In a large frying pan, add the vegetable oil until it comes an inch up the side of the pan. Heat the oil. Once it’s hot, add 4 eggplant, stuffed side down and fry until golden. This should take 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant and fry for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the the remaining eggplant until they’re all fried.
- Arrange the eggplant on a platter and sprinkle with some Crotonese before serving.
Note: This recipe will yield 16 stuffed eggplant halves. Crotonese is a pungent cheese made of sheep’s milk. It comes from the town of Crotone in Calabria. The Crotonese’s strong flavour compliments the eggplant very well.