Meatless Eggplant “Meatballs”
I’ll be the first to admit that I like a sizzling steak, a juicy pork chop, or a well roasted leg of lamb. I also love vegetables, but don’t think I could ever become a vegetarian voluntarily. But every once in a while, I eat a dish – like this one – that could sway me to the other side. Aside from the health benefits of vegetarian diets (discounting the oil these were fried in), I had further reason to make this dish. We had a bumper crop of eggplants in our garden and it’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.
It’s a traditional dish from Calabria, although plenty of other regions have notable eggplant dishes (caponata from Sicily, for example). Calabria, the region my father’s family is from, was historically one of Italy’s economically poorer regions, so housewives had to be creative with meat so scarce.
This particular recipe is adapted from my friend Domenica Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy,” one of the many authoritative books on Italian cooking that she’s authored.
Start by roasting the eggplant whole, in the oven, until it looks shriveled. It took about an hour and a half to achieve this:
Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily using just your fingers), then scoop out the insides and either use a potato masher or knife and chopping board to mince the flesh finely. Don’t put it in the food processor or it will become too mushy.
Add the rest of the ingredients – bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, eggs, and seasonings. Mix it all together with a spoon by hand.
Roll into balls the size of a golf ball. Make them smaller if you like, and they’d be great cocktail munchies.
Roll them in bread crumbs.
Fry in hot oil until browned.
They’re delicious right out of the frying pan, but they also make a wonderful substitute for real meatballs with spaghetti or bucatini. Drop some in your favorite tomato sauce.
And serve over a heaping bowl of pasta.
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- ½ teaspoon slat
- 3-4 ounces grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- breadcrumbs for dredging
- vegetable oil for frying
- Prick a large eggplant with the tines of a fork and place the eggplant on a roasting pan.
- Set the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for about one and a half hours, until the skin looks shriveled and the interior is completely cooked through.
- Let the eggplant cool, then strip off the skin.
- It should peel off easily with your fingers.
- Mince the flesh with a large chopping knife, or use a potato masher to mash.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the breadcrumbs for dredging and the vegetable oil), and mix everything together.
- Roll into balls the size of a golf ball or smaller if you want to serve them as hors d'oevres.
- Dredge the balls in the breadcrumbs and fry in sizzling hot oil.
- Turn the balls over to brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels.
- Serve as is, with a sprinking of parmesan or pecorino cheese, OR, transfer the eggplant meatballs to a pot with simmering tomato sauce, and serve over pasta.