Spring’s First Pick (Le Primizie): Sardinian Stuffed Eggplant
It has been a busy week outside now that spring has arrived! In the summer, I have a little farmstand (or should I say farm table) with my neighbor, Nick, the farmer. We actually had a bit of mild success last year selling our tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers and flowers – so it was time to expand the garden a bit! I am now happy to report that I am almost finished with the new garden bed. I have been buried in mud and dirt all weekend and on this rainy Sunday, I am very much looking forward to spending the day indoors cooking for a friend visiting for dinner…the eggplants were simply beautiful at the market yesterday so I could not resist buying an armful for some Sardinian Stuffed Eggplant.
I have been making this recipe since it first appeared in Food and Wine back in 2005 and it has earned its place on my Sunday recipe list. The original recipe was from Efisio Farris who grew up in Sardinia. He talked about how his family would make this recipe during the spring primizie or first pick of the season – perfect timing I might say! Having visitied Sardinia last spring, I can envision the little farmers coming in from tending their gardens after smells of this dish wafted across the countryside. Don’t skip the mint in the recipe – it adds a beautiful and surprising twist to the flavor! Open a hearty red, add some crusty bread and enjoy.
Sardinian Stuffed Eggplant
For the sauce:
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 35-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
Pinch of hot pepper
For the eggplants:
3 medium, firm eggplants
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 pound ground veal (or substitute other ground meat)
1 cup of freshly grated pecorino cheese (if you can find it) or parmigiano reggiano, divided
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Make the sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. (Careful not to let it burn.) Add the tomatoes and simmer over medium heat until thickened – about 15 -20 minutes. Season with salt and hot pepper to taste.
2. Prepare the eggplants: Peel 1 eggplant and roughly dice. Place in colander. Cut the remaining 2 eggplants in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving about 1/4 inch thick shell. Roughly chop the additional scooped flesh and add to the colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 30-45 minutes.
3. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Submerge the eggplant shells in the boiling water and cook until soft – 3 to 5 minutes. You will need to keep poking the shells underwater to submerge them. Once soft, remove to drain. Let cool.
4. Rinse the chopped eggplant and squeeze as much water as possible out.
5. In a heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the chopped eggplant and the wine and simmer over medium heat until the eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir the eggplant occasionally to keep from burning.
6. Once the eggplant is soft, add the ground veal and cook over medium heat until the veal is cooked through and starts to brown slightly. Transfer the filling to a bowl and allow to cool slightly.
7. Add in 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, the egg, breadcrumbs, mint, basil and nutmeg. Stir until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a baking pan large enough to accommodate the eggplant shells. Fill the shells with the filling and place in the baking pan.
9. Spoon half of the sauce over the eggplant shells, down the center (see photo above!). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
10. Bake the eggplant until browned and bubbling, about 30-40 minutes.
11. Let cool slightly, sprinkle with additional cheese, then serve. Pass the extra tomato sauce on the side. Enjoy!