I’m what I would call a ‘nostalgic eater’ – which means that everything I love to eat, cook, and bake is inspired greatly by a memory or person that I’m connected to in my life. These stuffed eggplant are no exception, and in fact, I would say they are the quintessential example of nostalgic eating. I was too young to even recall my first memory of them, and in the course of my lifetime, I have eaten a version of this savory and tangy fried piece of yumminess from every matriarch on both sides of my family. These stuffed eggplant, or ‘Melangiane Chini’ as we refer to them in Calabrese (Melanzane Ripiene in Italian), are another timeless tradition of Southern Italian cooking and of my family. Everyone’s version, like so many other recipes that I share, tastes just a little different, but the essence is always there, being that robust reminder of a special place, person, or time in life when you bit into the crispy outer layer and sank your teeth into the smooth, soft stuffing, and finished by biting the familiar and delicious skin of the eggplant. Hands down, my Mother’s are the best, followed in close second by my Zia Concetta’s, both of whom inspired my recipe and still make these for me today (I know I can make them myself, but they taste even better when Mamma makes them).
3 Italian eggplants
1/2 pound ground beef (optional)
¼ cup finely minced red pepper (I prefer to use the mini-sweet peppers)
¼ cup minced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced super-fine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
5-6 basil leaves (sliced chiffonade style)
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
½ cup grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepperprocedamenti
Fill a large pot with water and boil on high. Cut the tops of the eggplants, removing the stems, and then slice in half. Submerge the eggplant halves into the boiling water for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the eggplant. Set aside to cool in a bowl of cold water. Once cooled, scoop out the inside of the eggplant, creating a ‘boat’ shell – careful not to scrape too much from the sides or to puncture the boat. Chop the eggplant insides into small, uniform pieces and add to the ground meat in a medium bowl. Add the minced red pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, eggs, black pepper, and grated cheese. Mix with your hands while slowly incorporating the bread crumbs. Avoid ‘overworking’ the meat mixture, but be sure all ingredients are well dispersed.
Dry off any excess water from the eggplant boats and fill each boat by hand with the stuffing mixture. The filling should arrive just at the rim of the eggplant shell. After filling all of the boats, refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, stuffing side up. Fill a large frying skillet about half way with oil and heat over medium. I prefer extra virgin olive oil, but you can also use vegetable or canola. Once the oil is heated for frying (you’ll see little bubbles start to rise), slowly fill the skillet with the eggplants, stuffing side down. Fry for about 4 – 6 minutes or until a golden brown crust has formed. Gently flip each eggplant, and cook an additional 4 minutes. Remove from pan and drain excess oil by placing on a paper towel lined plate. Garnish with grated Parmiggiano or fresh cut parsley.