Pollo con melanzane (Chicken with eggplant, tomatoes and pancetta)

Chicken with pancetta, tomatoes and eggplantAs we continue our Calabrian adventures, I’ve been cooking with the aid of the excellent cookbook, My Calabria. This is a great source for all things Calabrian and has some wonderful stories beyond the recipes.

With it being summer, eggplants are everywhere. A lot of people are afraid to cook eggplant because of the amount of oil they can soak up. This is one of many many ways to make eggplant: fry it in hot olive oil to a crispy texture and then combine it with other ingredients to soften it up. The real key is to get the olive oil smoking hot and to be careful when frying. Eggplant shrinks a lot too when cooked, hence the large-sized pieces to start.

I’ve adapted this recipe with a couple of twists. I hope you enjoy it.

This recipe serves 2 people.

Ingredients and Direction:

  • 1 large globe eggplant
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 thick slice of pancetta, chopped into small cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife (will be removed from the pan so leave in one or two pieces)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup rough-chopped fresh summer tomatoes
  • 1 fresh hot red chili pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Special Equipment:

  • A small, high-sided saute pan
  • A medium-size deep Dutch oven
  • A sheet pan lined with paper towels
  • Long tongs or a spider
  1. Cut the eggplant into 1-to-2-inch cubes. Place in a colander and liberally sprinkle with salt. Toss in the colander and let sit for 1 hour.
  2. Heat olive oil about 1-inch deep in a small, high-sided saute pan (vs. a skillet which has curved sides). I like to fry smaller batches in smaller-high sided pans to so I use less oil but get a deep frying vessel. Heat the oil until almost smoking (about 350 degrees F for extra-virgin olive oil). Add small batches of eggplant to fry. There will be spattering from residual water in the eggplant. Using long tongs turn the cubes as they fry. Fry the eggplant until you have a deep golden brown on most or all sides. Using tongs or a spider, remove the the eggplant to a sheet pan coated with paper towels to absorb the extra oil.
  3. Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a deep Dutch oven wide enough to hold the chicken in one layer, heat a thin layer of oil olive over medium heat. Add the pancetta and garlic and saute until the pancetta is crispy brown.
  4. Add the chicken skin-side down and brown until the skin is crispy. Flip over the chicken and brown the other side—about 5 minutes per side. The chicken will cook further in the tomatoes.
  5. When the chicken is browned, drain off the extra fat, retaining the pancetta and the chicken. Discard the garlic chunks. If needed, remove the chicken and pancetta to a plate, drain the fat and return the chicken and pancetta to the pot.
  6. Add the white wine and cook, still on medium heat, till evaporated.
  7. Add the tomatoes and red chili pepper. Combine with the chicken and pancetta and gently stir until the tomatoes break down and make a sauce. About 15 minutes.
  8. When the tomatoes have turned to sauce, the chicken should be cooked through. Add the fried eggplant and VERY gently combine the eggplant into the sauce and chicken. Cook until the dish is all combined. About 5 minutes.
  9. Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and serve.

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