Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ebony Inside

Polpette di Melanzane con Cuore di Oliva & Salsa di Pomodorini
Eggplant "Meatballs" with Olive Center and Cherry Tomato Salsa

Eggplants and olives are made for each other- but being as they are both on good terms with basil and tomatoes, I thought I should bring them together this evening and let them get to know each other a little. My first experience with eggplant "meatballs" or fritters, was not the best and alas I was left with a sense of disappointment... I couldn't help thinking that there had to be a way to turn something that sounds like a great idea into an equally grand reality. And so behold- my version!

Most recipes for eggplant fritters entail a soft cheese center and deep frying- 2 things I am not fond of, right from the get-go. They were also a little too soft and didn't quite have enough bite for my taste... sigh! But fortunately, these are easy problems to remedy- and this is how I managed to do it and to make something that was much more satisfying for me- and hopefully for all of you good people too!

Most recipes call for the eggplant to be baked in the oven first, then scraped out and puréed- but I decided to try something completely different. I started off by peeling and finely slicing my eggplant- I had half of one of those beautiful, large, purple Italian eggplants- but the equivalent amount would be one regular, medium-sized black one. I popped the finely sliced eggplant, half a clove of garlic and half of a finely chopped onion into my steam-rack, popped it into a saucepan with a little water and let it steam away for 15 minutes. I have one of those little stainless steel inserts that opens up like a little Sputnik satellite... I love that thing- it is so useful- especially for this preparation!

After 15 minutes, the eggplant was lovely and soft, as was the garlic and onion- and the flavors were wonderfully infused together- excellent stuff! I let it cool for a few minutes and then using a wooden spoon, squeezed out the excess moisture, straight through the steam-rack which of course serves as a wonderful sieve in this case- practical! The next thing I did was to add a handful of chopped parsley and basil, some salt and pepper and a good sprinkle of bread crumbs. I stirred everything together briskly with a fork until it began to form into a firm consistency, adding more a little at a time until it was nice and firm- I suppose it will depend on the size of your eggplant and how moist it was. 

Next, I cracked an egg, beat it, added half to the eggplant mixture and set half aside to bread the meatballs later on. Now that the egg was added, the mixture was smoother, but softer. I then added a nice sprinkle of grated salted Ricotta cheese- a small handful and again, as much bread crumb as needed to make it into a firm enough consistency to shape into balls. I rolled the balls out with moistened hands, so that they would not stick and were easier to manage, flattened the balls out a little on the palm of my hand, pressed a black olive into the center of each one and then folded the mixture together into a ball again. All that needed to be done then, was to dip them first in the beaten egg dip and then into more bread crumbs ready for frying... so easy!

I fried the eggplant balls in just a little olive oil in a regular non stick pan- they worked perfectly well and I preferred not to deep fry mine, but of course that is also an option! In any case, whilst they were frying away, I made a basic, rustic, cherry tomato salsa, by frying together the other half of the finely chopped onion and garlic clove, a little finely chopped basil and the cherry tomatoes, which I cut into quarters- it only took 5-6 of them for one generous serving. After sautéing them in a little olive oil for 5 minutes or so, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of cayenne and a tiny pinch of cinnamon. I deglazed the frying pan after a minute or so of adding the paste, with enough boiling water to cover the base of the pan, stirred everything together well so that the paste was totally dissolved and then turned the heat down to a low simmer for 4-5 minutes.

By that time, the eggplant balls were wonderfully golden brown and crispy on the outside and moist and delicious on the inside- with that tangy black olive in the middle- yum! What a wonderful combination with the zingy tomato salsa! A basil leaf or two as a garnish and a light sprinkle of grated salted Ricotta, a last drop or two of olive oil... and dinner was served!

And yes- again I am sure you are going to love it!

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