cooking with Nonna and a stuffed eggplant recipe

I genuinely had absolutely no idea how my Nonna went about making her stuffed eggplant. When she mentioned that she had all of the ingredients except for the actual eggplant on the day that we were making this recipe, I volunteered to pick them up for her on the way to her house only to have my offer firmly shut down. "I can buy eggplants" I replied. "No, you no get the right one," she countered. And boy, was she right. I had absolutely no idea that she used Sicilian eggplants rather than the classic purpley-black strain. When I asked why, she said because they're the "right ones",- not a well-rounded answer, but there you have it! In my humble opinion, my Nonna's preference for Sicilian eggplants is a result of the fact that this strain of eggplant has less seeds than the classic variety as well as that it turns out velvety and almost buttery when cooked. Can't argue with that!

According to Nonna, this dish doesn't turn out anywhere near correctly if you use any other eggplant strain than the Sicilian one. If you're not sure where to buy them, Italian grocery stores in Toronto like Coppa's or Lady York are your best bet. Don't cut corners on this one!

These beauties are a little time consuming, but they're delicious, relatively cheap to make and they freeze perfectly. If you're feeling like something classically Calabrese, this is the dish for you!

Note: This recipe makes enough filling for 16 pieces of stuffed eggplant, but discards the cores of 2 out of the 4 whole Sicilian eggplants (aka. 2/4 eggplants are used only for their skins). If you'd like an alternative to discarding the eggplant cores, use 2 eggplants rather than 4 and instead use the extra filling to stuff 4 bell peppers (cut into halves) after salting the halves and letting them sit for approximately 1 hour to remove excess moisture. Or, alternatively, you can form the filling into croquettes, roll them in bread crumbs and fry them. The choice is yours!

stuffed eggplant

Serves: 16 pieces    Prep time: 1.5hrs     Total time: 35-45 mins

  • 4 large Sicilian eggplants (approximately 1lb each) *Note: you'll only be using the cores of 2 eggplants to make the filling. The remaining cores will be discarded.
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into two pieces1 tbsp salt
  • 300g ground beef
  • splash of white wine/beer
  • 250g mozzarella, grated
  • Leaves from 1 sprig of parsley
  • 180g Calabrese bread, crust removed
  • 1/3c tomato sauce
  • 80g parmesan, grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 80g breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Remove the top/stem and bottom of the eggplants and cut into quarters.

2. Slice the cores out of the eggplant quarters, leaving the skin and 1cm of "meat" (the skin portion will be what you fill later, so make sure that it is cut carefully and is intact). In doing this, you are effectively separating each of the quarters onto two pieces; the skins and the cores. Place the skin portions in a large pot and set aside.

3. Discard the core portions of 2 of the eggplants (aka. 8 core pieces). With the remaining cores, cut out the seeds if there is an excess. Place the cores in the large pot with the skins. Note: Nonna says that Sicilian eggplants have less seeds than your average strain of eggplant, which is beneficial in this recipe.

4. Juice the lemon pieces into the pot and toss the juiced lemons in with the eggplant (this stops the eggplant from discolouring). Add enough water to cover the eggplant pieces and 1tbsp of salt. The eggplant pieces will float (which is fine), just ensure that there is enough water to cover them if they're pushed down. Bring the pot to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the eggplant is cooked through (the cores will become tender and the skins will wrinkle a bit), approximately 10 minutes.

5. Strain the cooked eggplant through a colander, splash with a bit of cold water and let cool at room temperature for 10 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, cook the ground beef on medium in a small pot with an inch or so of water, a splash of wine or beer and a sprinkle of salt. When cooked, drain out the liquid, splash with cold water and put aside in a large mixing bowl.

7. Mince the parsley and the cooked eggplant core finely (setting aside the whole skin portions,- don't chop those parts!). Add the minced ingredients to the bowl with the cooked ground meat.

8. Place the Calabrese bread in a bowl, cover with cold water and let soak for 5 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water, tear into small pieces and add to the bowl with the ground meat mixture.

9. Add the tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, eggs and breadcrumbs and mix well until combined

10. Line a deep tray with foil and thoroughly cover it with 3tbsp vegetable oil in order to prevent sticking later on. Fill eggplant skins with meat mixture and place on the tray. If freezing, cover with tinfoil and do so at this point, making sure to defrost completely before eventually cooking. Freezes well for approximately three months.

11. Cook in a 350*f oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the stuffed eggplants are cooked through and golden brown. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and serve!

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