While writing her book, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, Domenica Marchetti unearthed this classic Sicilian recipe. To make the dish more savory, she adds dried porcini mushrooms to the eggplant, and the porcini soaking liquid to the tomato sauce.
Slideshow:Vegetarian Main Dishes
1 large eggplant (1 1/4 pounds)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
Two 28-ounce cans imported whole Italian tomatoes, seeded and pureed with their juices
2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus leaves for garnish
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
All-purpose flour, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying
Crusty bread, for serving
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 350°. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin.
Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, 30 minutes; drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any grit. Finely chop the porcini.
In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and half of the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before reaching the grit; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, 1 hour. Add half of the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.
Fold the chopped porcini, bread crumbs, eggs, 2 ounces of cheese, parsley and the remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Form the eggplant mixture into twenty 1 3/4-inch balls, rolling tightly. Dust the balls with flour and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Add half of the meatballs at a time and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish the meatballs with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread and grated cheese.
Medium-bodied red wines go best with meatballs and tomato sauce—even vegetarian versions. Try a California red made with an Italian grape variety, like Sangiovese or Barbera.
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