Eggplants are so versatile. I am always excited by their possibilities in the kitchen. Common in Mediterranean and Middle eastern cuisines as well as those of India, China and South East Asia, the spongy flesh of the eggplant readily soaks up other flavours, especially olive oil. Melanzana, the Italian word for eggplant or aubergine, is the most shady looking member of the deadly nightshade family, solanum melongena, and the Italian name, melanzana may follow from this or is derived from mela insana, which, translated into English, means mad apple. The latter may have some validity as most Europeans were fearful of members of the deadly nightshade family (including tomatoes and potatoes) and this particular member looks pretty scary! It can be purchased all year round but the best specimens arrive in my garden and in fresh produce markets in Autumn. When fresh, as distinct from stored, stashed, sprayed and imported, the flesh is white and seedless – there is no need to salt them at all. My seedlings were sold as the Bonica variety and while slow to mature, they produce lovely elongated but fleshy fruit.
Last week when Debi at My Kitchen Witch explored the role of breadcrumbs used as condiment (conza) in Sicilian cooking, I was reminded of a wonderful Sicilian eggplant recipe from one of my favourite books, My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo. ( Lantern, 2011). This is a gem of a book and I am slowly working my way through it.
I can recommend this little dish if you have all these goods on hand, as I did. Oh happy day! Involtini di Melanzane – Stuffed Eggplant Rolls. Serves six as a side dish or entrée, or 3-4 as a main with another side dish.
- 2 large eggplants cut lengthways into 1 cm slices
- 1/4 cup EV olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper
- fresh unsprayed lemon leaves ( optional but very desirable)
- 3 cups tomato passata ( either home-made or purchased)
- 2 tablespoons grated pecorino
- 1 – 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and chopped
- 3 Tablespoons flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1/4 cup water
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 cup course fresh breadcrumbs ( I used left over sourdough/ use a quality bread here)
- 3/4 cup grated pecorino.
- Brush the eggplant with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on a flat iron stove top griller. Alternately, place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
- For the filling, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the anchovy and stir for 1 minute, then add the capers, parsley, tomato paste, and a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute. Remove pan from the heat and combine with the breadcrumbs and pecorino: the mixture should have a thick pasty consistency. If the filling is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
- Preheat oven to 180c.
- Place an eggplant slice on a chopping board and spoon on a tablespoon ( or less) of the filling. Roll up the eggplant slice and place in an oiled baking dish or terracotta tegame. Repeat with the remaining slices until all used. If there is any filling left, save it for stuffing another vegetable, or just eat it straight out of the pan!
- Place a lemon leaf between each roll. Pour over the tomato passata and sprinkle over the pecorino. Bake for 30 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
*I served mine with lemon couscous.
*Gluten free version? Consider using cooked arborio rice instead of breadcrumbs.
* Dairy free? Just leave out the cheese.
* No pecorino? Just use parmigiano.
Also see another version of this dish, using ricotta as the stuffing, produced by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert.