RECIPE: Eggplant and Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce

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Eggplant and Porcini mushrooms “meatballs” in tomato sauce with pecorino romano and fresh basil

Meatless Mondays only or do you find yourself having more vegetarian meals lately?

I found this recipe in the Food and Wine magazine’s August edition on innovative “vegetable-centric” eating; I thought this recipe would be perfect for Fall and Winter months when we yearn for comfort foods. The addition of porcini mushroom to the eggplant and its liquid to the tomato sauce was a stroke of brilliance; it made the dish more savoury.

The recipe is originally from “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti; just like other home cooks, I adapted the recipe and made some changes: I baked the “meatballs” instead of pan frying them, they are more crispy and less greasy; and I made the tomato sauce slightly spicy.

Ingredients:

1 Large eggplant (1 to 1/14 lbs), 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, Boiling water, 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, pureed with juices), 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil plus leaves for garnish, 3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (from 6 ounces crustless country bread), 2 large eggs (beaten), 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (freshly grated and more for serving), 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, all purpose flour *(for coating meatballs(I omitted this ingredient)), kosher salt, pepper and chilli pepper flakes (*for sauce, can also add as seasoning to “meatballs”)

Preparation:

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“Prickly” Eggplant

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees; prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet.  Roast in the center of oven for approximately 1 hour until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then slice open eggplant and scrape the flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely.  Discard the skin.

– Meanwhile in heat proof bowl, cover the dried porcini mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, approximately 30 minutes.  Drain, reserve the soaking liquid.  Rinse the porcini to remove any grit, then finely chop the mushrooms.

– In an enameled cast-iron casserole/pot, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, half the garlic and chilli pepper flakes, cook over moderately high heat, keep stirring until softened (5 minutes).  Add the tomato puree and pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stop before reaching the grit; bring it to a boil.  Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until thickened, approximately 1 hour.  Add half of the chopped fresh basil, season with salt, pepper and chilli pepper flakes.

– To prepare the “meatballs”: Fold the chopped porcini, bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, parsley, remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant.  Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper (adjust according to your own taste and dietary concerns). Line the baking sheet with wax paper.  Form the eggplant mixture into 1 3/4 inch balls, rolling tightly. Dust them with flour lightly and refrigerate for 20 minutes (*note- I skipped the flour completely).

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Brush “meatballs’ with olive oil; ready to bake!

– *(this step deviates from the original) Preheat oven to 350 degrees, brush meatballs with olive oil and bake them for 30 to 40 minutes, turning them a couple of times to ensure all sides are browned all over.  When they are ready, add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.

– Garnish the meatballs with fresh basil leaves and grated cheese; serve with crusty bread.

Notes:

Dried Porcini mushrooms: available at Italian markets / fine food stores; I purchased mine from Cioffi’s (http://www.cioffisgroup.com/) and they are the best I’ve purchased to date; when I opened the package, it was unbelievably fragrant; I look forward to using them again in other dishes. 

I’ve used less oil than the recipe calls for; and I added chili pepper flakes to make the sauce slightly spicy, this is optional and adjust according to your own taste (I did not provide specific measurements).  When binding the ingredients, I added a little half and half as I felt it needed a little more moisture. This recipe is a definite keeper; I may try it with more eggplant and a little less breadcrumbs.

We had our dish with ciabatta bread and a side salad; almost made a “Meat and Bread” Sandwich “meatball” sandwich..now that’s an idea (OO)

For the original recipe; here’s the link:http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/eggplant-and-porcini-meatballs-in-tomato-sauce

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