No other topic – not even religion or politics – provokes such enthusiastic discussion in my mother’s family like melanzane ripiene or stuffed eggplant and “come le faceva la mamma”, how mamma used to make them. With nine children in her family, you can just imagine the sound level these debates can reach! I get it now that I’m grown and cook for my own family. There are times I think I’m making something just like my mom would but somehow it just doesn’t taste the same. Then you ask a sibling and you realize your memories vary slightly as to how mamma makes it. Enter Nonna’s Way! My nonna’s stuffed eggplant, or melanzane ripiene, are hard to replicate but I’ve got to take my mom’s side on this family feud and say hers are the closest! So here we are again with Nonna Pina and her recipe for stuffed eggplant.
One of the last things we pick at the farm in the late summer are baby black eggplants. We wait as long as possible, since taking the baby eggplant means less fully mature eggplants for the farmer to sell. To preserve them for the winter months, we wash them and cut off the end with the stem. Then you cut them in half lengthwise and score around the edges. If you skip this step, you won’t be able to take the pulp out after they are blanched. Place the cut eggplants into boiling water and remove when the pulp is tender, approximately 4 minutes. Let cool and with your fingers or a spoon remove the pulp from each half eggplant. Use food safe bags to freeze the desired number of eggplant halves and their pulp together.
If you don’t have access to baby eggplants, you can substitute them in this recipe for two large eggplants and make eggplant braccioli. To do this, wash the eggplants and cut in half. Place in boiling water until soft and let cool, then chop them up and add to mixture as per recipe. Instead of stuffing eggplant halves you just take a small amount of the mixture in your hand and form little oval patties.
The recipe calls for a handful of fresh basil, the more the better! It’s also important not to use dry bread crumbs or your mixture will be too dense and dry. My nonna would use any old bread she had in the house, break it up and soak it with a bit of water first. The consensus is that she only did that to use up old bread so don’t feel the need to run out and buy fresh bread for this. Nonna Pina puts her Italian bread or buns in the processor a bit and squeezes the juice from the eggplant halves into the mixture so the bread soaks it all up.
Always fry meat side down first and only flip once. The eggplant side only takes a few minutes once the meat is cooked through. Let sit on a paper towel briefly to get rid of any excess oil and enjoy while hot!
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- A generous handful fresh chopped basil - the more the better
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 4 eggs
- 4 cups fresh bread crumbs from Italian bread
- 18 little black eggplants, no bigger than the palm of your hand
- Chopped eggplant pulp from 18 baby eggplants and the juice
- squeezed from 36 eggplant halves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- oil for frying
- Bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil
- Wash eggplant, cut off stems and cut length wise in half
- Slice all the way around into the eggplants roughly 1/4 inch from the skin and 1/4 inch deep
- Place into boiling water and remove when pulp is tender, about 4 minutes
- Once cool enough to work with, using two fingers or a spoon, dig out the pulp of the eggplants, chop it up and set aside in a bowl
- In a large bowl mix all ingredients including the chopped eggplant pulp together but leave the eggplant halves aside.
- Squeeze the juice out of the eggplant halves into the mixture.
- Fill eggplant shells with meat mixture and fry on medium heat in a pan with 1/4 to 1/2 inch oil, meat side down first, until cooked through. Flip and fry eggplant side for a few minutes. Place on paper towel briefly to soak up any excess oil and serve.
- Be sure to use freshly ground bread not dry bread crumbs.
- If you don't have baby eggplants, you can substitute two large eggplants and make eggplant bracciole. Wash the eggplants, cut off the stems and place in boiling water until tender. Then chop them up and add to the rest of the mixture.