I was telling my mother the other day that I had made stuffed eggplants. “Che boni!” (delicious!) she exclaimed in her Veneto dialect. To her horror I proceeded to tell her that I had made them “Calabrese” style. She listened attentively to the recipe that I described and then exclaimed “magari i sara’ boni pero’ credo che i miei xe meio” (they are probably nice but I think mine are better). This is hardly unexpected. Italians are often territorial about their food; something from a different region can feel quite foreign to them. This makes for a very rich food culture but can present a problem for fussier individuals when they are presented with recipes that are not local. My mother will try most things as long as there is no dreaded coriandalo (coriander). My father, however, was quite a fussy eater, clearly favoring foods from his beloved Istria and the neighboring Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I don’t think he ever tasted Chinese food or Indian food in his 90 years – and might not even have eaten my stuffed eggplants if I had told him the recipe was Calabrese!
Today at the Victoria Market I bought some gorgeous small purple striped eggplants (which I took the opportunity to photograph in my new orange recycled glass Spanish bowl). I love eggplants and all their varieties. Stuffed, fried, braised, in a peperonata – I would eat them every day if I could. I have posted eggplant recipes before – fried Venetian style and eggplant antipasto rolls.
The recipe I tried for stuffed eggplants “Calabrese” style was on an episode of SBS food that I saw a few weeks back. Smaller eggplants are halved, boiled and then stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, grated pecorino (sheep’s milk hard cheese), the eggplant flesh and herbs. They are then pan fried. Apparently it is impossible to eat just one! I didn’t write the recipe down so I tried to remember it and then added my own variants. Given that basil is in season, I added a handful of basil to the filling (they might have used parsley on the TV show), which gave it a fresh summery taste. It is terrific recipe that I will happily make again. I served them with a tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes and basil. It was a delightful vegetarian meal which matched perfectly with a leafy green salad and a glass of Chrismont Arneis from the King Valley. Maybe I could have convinced my father to try this one!
Stuffed eggplants – alla Calabrese
Serves 4 as a light lunch
8 medium sized eggplants (about 10cm in length)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
2 cups grated Pecorino cheese (substitute Parmiggiano if unavailable)
2 large eggs
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra dried breadcrumbs (if needed)
Splash of milk (if needed)
Olive oil for shallow frying
1/4 – 1/3 cup white wine, for frying
Place a pot of water large enough to hold all the eggplants on the stove to boil. In the meantime, remove the stems from the eggplants then cut them in half longways. Place them in the pot of boiling water and cook until they are tender but still retain their shape (between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the size of the eggplants). Drain.
Once they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh leaving leaving about 1/2 cm of flesh attached to the skin. Chop the flesh into smallish cubes and place on a larger strainer so that the water can seep out.
In the meantime prepare the other ingredients. Once the flesh has drained for about 15 minutes, place it in a large bowl with the other ingredients. Mix well with your hands. The consistency of the eggplant filling should be quite firm so that it holds together, so you may need to add more breadcrumbs if it is too soft or a splash of milk if it is too dry. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stuff the eggplants until all the mixture is used up.
Heat up a large non-stick frypan on medium heat and add the olive oil. Place the eggplants stuffing side down in the pan. Hopefully all of them will fit, otherwise cook in two batches. Cook stuffing side down for 5-7 minutes until they brown nicely. Flip them over, add the wine and lower the heat. Cook for about another 15 minutes with the lid on. The wine should have evaporated.
Serve with a simple tomato, garlic and basil sauce – use fresh tomatoes to make it if you have them.