Thursday, April 25, 2013
This happens to me a lot because I work in a fancy grocery store. I see something in the produce department, while I’m rattling by with a bunch of empty wine boxes on my cart, and it lodges itself into my creative culinary subconscious, because it is simply too adorable not to cook. Such is the case with these Sicilian eggplants. Up until last Tuesday my favorite small thing from Sicily was Sophia Petrillo. She still ranks high without a doubt, but these tender, flavorful, sausage and veggie stuffed little globes of yum are holding a serious spot in my heart right now. I guess because they kind of saved me last week, by pulling me away from the news and into the kitchen, offering a very necessary (accidental Salt n Pepa reference and it stays!) reprieve from the mire of last week’s headlines.
I had prepared the bulk of this meal on Tuesday morning, where in the silence of my sunny kitchen, chopping and stirring, blanching and roasting and yes, even doing the dishes, made me feel a little bit of peace on a very sad day. And then later in the week on Thursday night, after I had said my piece, had seen the photos and refreshed the news feed for the millionth time, I shut it all off: TV, facebook, boston.com. All of it (thank god, because I guess I needed to reserve energy for Friday. Holy shit. Friday. I can’t even believe it still). Then I turned on some music, opened some wine and invited a friend over to eat. And this is what we had. This is a fairly simple dish but it does take a considerable amount of time to prepare. It’s not a throw together dish, but something to make when you’ve really got time to devote to your food. Or maybe you just need a few hours to avoid the TV.
TWICE BAKED, SAUSAGE STUFFED SICILIAN EGGPLANT
3-4 Sicilian eggplant (or equal amount graffiti or Japanese eggplant)
Olive oil (approx. ¼ cup, divided)
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc) (optional)
¾ cup pureed tomatoes (I like Poma brand)
Pinch crushed red pepper
1 cup cubed day old bread
¾ cup milk
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Basil for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Heat about two tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Squeeze sausage out of casings and into pan; brown, breaking up into smaller chunks with a wooden spoon. While the sausage browns and your water heats prep your vegetables:
Use a large knife to cut a “lid” off of your eggplant; then working carefully, edge a paring knife down into the meat of each eggplant. Score slices vertically and then horizontally down and use a large tablespoon to scoop down into the center of each eggplant, removing the flesh in ragged chunks. Reserve the eggplant flesh for use in your stuffing. You’ll want about a ½-¾ inch rim around the edge of each eggplant. Prepare the remainder of your veggies and finely chop the reserved eggplant, checking your sausage periodically for a stir.
Once the sausage is sufficiently browned, remove from pan, chop through with your knife and set aside. If needed, add a few more tablespoons of oil to your skillet and then add onions and red pepper, sautéing together for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add eggplant and turn heat to high. Pour in wine, if using, and boil until the wine is reduced, scraping the bottom of the pan to free any browned bits of sausage or onion that are stuck (this should take just a few minutes, maybe 4-5). Reduce heat back to medium; add garlic, crushed red pepper, tomato puree, sausage and a generous shake of salt and pepper. Set to simmer, cover and let cook; stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender: about 15 minutes.
While your vegetable mixture simmers, blanch the eggplant shells. Salt boiling water generously, with about a handful of salt, drop the eggplant shells in, using tongs to submerge them (they float!). Blanch for about 2 minutes and then remove and set to drain on towels. At this point you might get sad because they have turned from a beautiful lilac purple to a sad brown/pink color; but console yourself with the knowledge that their color would have turned at some point or another during the cooking process.
Once your vegetable-sausage mixture is cooked through, remove from heat and set aside to cool. Place the bread crumbs into a small bowl and pour the milk over to absorb. In a large bowl, combine the cooled veggie-sausage mixture with the parsley, parmesan cheese and finally your bread crumbs, squeezing out any excess milk from the crumbs before adding. Salt and pepper and toss together with your hands to combine.
Coat the bottom of a small baking dish with a bit of olive oil and then use a barbecue brush or your fingers to paint each eggplant shell with a nice slick of oil, both inside and out. Nestle the shells close together in your pan and fill each with a generous pile of stuffing. Top the stuffed ‘plants with shredded mozzarella. At this point in time, you have two options to choose from. The first option, which is what I did, is to essentially twice bake the stuffed eggplant. I’m not sure if this is entirely necessary but sweet mother, it is delicious, so I’m suggesting it here. If you think that baking a simple dish not once but twice is straight crazy and you’re like “Jess, ain’t nobody got time for that”, please proceed to option 2.
Option 1: Cover pan tightly with foil and set to bake in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove pan, let cool and store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve, later that day, the next day; or, in my case, two days later. I would not advise waiting over three days, but speaking from experience can tell you that two days in the fridge didn’t hurt them a bit. When ready to serve: bake in a 375 degree oven for one hour, tightly wrapped in foil. Remove foil, and set pan under broiler to brown and melt cheese on top, for about 2-3 minutes. Scatter fresh chopped basil on top, if using. Serve immediately with a mixed green salad, or a side of pasta in tomato sauce.
Option 2: Cover pan tightly with foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for one hour. Remove foil and broil, 2-3 minutes until cheese on top is browned and bubbling. Scatter fresh chopped basil on top, if using. Serve immediately, perhaps with one or both of the sides suggested above.
Extra filling and what to do with it: I ended up with quite a bit of extra filling and my guess is you will too. In the interest of not wasting this goodness I rolled them into very loose, squishy meatballs and set them on a parchment lined baking sheet and popped them into my already heated 400 degree oven. They only took about 10 minutes before they were deeply browned. They were a little loose and a little rustic looking, but I tossed a few of them on some lightly dressed arugula for a really nice salad. The next day for lunch I heated a couple of these little hockey pucks and had them on toasted bread with crumbled goat cheese, a few leaves of basil and some arugula and that was a pretty nice time as well.