Sicilian Stuffed Eggplant

After a beautiful Harvest weekend in Sonoma, I’m having a hard time finishing this post. I spent this past weekend tasting delicious Italian wines and oogling over the changing vine colors and rolling golden hills in wine country.  Saturday I enjoyed a breathtaking group hike at Seghesio Vineyards with their winemaker, and later sipped my way thru some Sicilian gems at home to find inspiration in the kitchen! My heart goes out to all of those affected in Northern California.

Back in August, my husband and I made our annual food and wine trip to Italy. Guys…I seriously need new pants already. I can’t stop trying to recreate my new favorite dishes! Today, I bring you stuffed eggplant.

Growing up in Buffalo, I’ve always loved Italian food (well, what we grew up thinking was Italian food). One of my first high school jobs was in an Italian bakery.  We baked fresh, hot bread onsite, which we dipped in warm marina and devoured when no one was looking. We were a cheese and charcuterie lover’s dream with a variety of imported meats and cheeses. We stocked the shelves with old world favorites, bringing little Italian grandmothers flocking in during the holidays. YUM. The Italian restaurants in Buffalo serve heavy comfort food in hearty portions. Stuffed peppers, antipasti, Piccata, Saltimbocca, and ooey, gooey, cheesy everything. Veal, Chicken, Spaghetti – anything could be turned into a melted Parmesan delight.

But back to the eggplant. I never cared much for eggplant, mainly because I only experienced it sloggy and breaded, slathered in sauce and cheese. Sunday sauce and meatballs will be my last meal on earth, HANDS DOWN, if I’m lucky enough to have a say. But eggplant is now in the running. I can’t stop thinking about new ways to cook it! Eggplant is so versatile and combines well with so many different flavors. I went to the farmer’s market over the weekend and somehow ended up with 5 purple beauties. FIVE! My husband and I are eaters, but that was a bit aggressive, even for us.

This recipe will easily feed 4 people, but it holds up really well if you want leftovers. I only used 4 of the eggplants, but you can easily increase or decrease the ingredients.

**Pro-tip. Make sure you allocate the right amount of time for eggplant prep. You really don’t want to skip the eggplant salt bath – it sucks the bitterness out of the vegetable. Give yourself a good 30-40 minutes to cut, salt, and rinse the eggplants.**

Finally, this recipe includes a quick tomato sauce prepared while the eggplant is cooking. I happened to have some leftover sauce already prepared from this Sunday Sauce recipe, which saved a few minutes and added great flavor! I hope you enjoy.

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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggplants, 2 peeled
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • Bunch of basil, chopped (about 2-3 Tbsp, loosely packed)
  • Olive oil
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • (1) 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes OR about 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 2-3 Tbsp of salt for the eggplant bath

Kitchen Gadgets

  • Large colander
  • Cutting board
  • 9×13 baking dish
  • Large fry pan or skillet
  • Medium sauce pan for
  • Medium to large pot for boiling water

Instructions:

  1. Chop the two peeled eggplants into cubes, about a 1/2 inch each. Place in the colander and set aside. Take the 2 remaining eggplants, and cut the stems off the top. Cut both eggplants in half the long way.
  2. Carefully with a knife, carve the flesh out of the eggplants, leaving a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch wall.  You want to leave enough flesh remaining so that the eggplant shells hold their shape, like an oblong bowl.
  3. Chop the remaining eggplant pieces scooped from the 4 eggplant shells and add them to the colander. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt on the chopped eggplant and let sit, 20-30 minutes.
  4. While the eggplant is resting, start preparing the sauce. Chop the yellow onion, and set aside half for the eggplant mixture. Add about 2 Tbsp olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Then add the onions, and saute until fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute another 2-3 minutes.
  5. If using canned tomatoes, stir in the whole can, crushing and de-stemming the tomatoes with your hands. Skip step 6.
  6. If using fresh tomatoes, using a paring knife to remove the core from the top of each tomato. Peeling your tomatoes is optional. I prefer to do so. If peeling, I suggest blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to make them easier to peel. The sauce will be chunkier, but still delicious if you skip the peeling. Just roughly chop the tomatoes into small chunks and add them to the pot with the sauteed onions and garlic.
  7. Let sauce simmer and stir occasionally. It doesn’t take more than 20-25 minutes for the sauce to cook down.
  8. While the sauce simmers, boil a pot of water. Submerge eggplant shells for 3 minutes, just long enough to soften. You still want the shells walls firm enough to stand up.
  9. Remove the shells from water and lay upside down to dry on a paper towel.
  10. Add 2-3 Tbsp olive oil to the large fry pan over medium heat. Add the remaining half of chopped onion and the oregano. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  11. Rinse the salt off the chopped eggplant and use paper towels to squeeze the water out in batches.
  12. Add the eggplant and wine to the onions. Saute 10 to 15 minutes until the eggplant is soft and cooked through.
  13. Then add the ground beef. Break up the meat with the spoon and stir frequently to combine the beef and the eggplant. Continue until meat and eggplant begin to brown. Turn off the pan and remove from heat.
  14. Place eggplant shells into a 9×13 baking pan, facing up.
  15. Turn oven on to 375 degrees.
  16. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add in 3/4 cup of the cheese, half the basil, and a pinch of both salt and pepper. Pour the mixture, along with breadcrumbs, over the eggplant and meat. Stir constantly so that the mixture gets coated evenly.
  17. Immediately scoop the mixture into the eggplant shells, before the eggs cook through. I had some leftover stuffing, which I finished cooking in the saute pan and saved. The stuffing is delish on it’s own, and probably would be awesome over pasta.
  18. Add the remaining basil to the sauce and remove from heat.
  19. Pour some tomato sauce over each stuffed eggplant. Make sure to save some of the sauce for serving. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each eggplant half and put the pan in the oven.
  20. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I like to switch the oven over to broil for the last 2 minutes to get a nice brown crust on top.
  21. Serve while warm with the remaining sauce on the side. I paired this with a delicious, smooth Sicilian red wine. Enjoy!

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