The humble eggplant, to the Sicilian cook, is like clay to a sculptor. It can be molded, shaped, and interpreted in limitless ways. Baby eggplants are cooked many different ways in Sicily but stuffing them is the most popular method. Much to my surprise, my local grocery store had some Indian eggplants available, which is a small variety. So I decided to make stuffed baby eggplants. There are other varieties of small eggplants that I’ve seen at many farmer’s markets that are equally suitable so don’t feel that you must use Indian eggplants. This is a basic recipe for a classic dish called Milinciani or Milincianeddi (small eggplants) Ammuttunate. Incisions made in the eggplants are stuffed with Caciocavallo cheese, garlic, and mint and baked in a tomato sauce. Sometimes ham, salami, and anchovies are also added. I just like stuffing them with cheese and basil or mint myself. Prying open the slits in the eggplants can be a little challenging at first.
STUFFED BABY EGGPLANTS IN TOMATO SAUCE
(Milinciani Aummuttunate/Melanzane Imbottite)
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Makes 4 servings.
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1 sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
For the Eggplants:
8 baby eggplants, washed and stem ends removed
32 small mint leaves or 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Caciocavallo or Provolone cheese, cut into 32 matchstick (julienne) size pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, cut in paper thin slices (optional)
PREPARE THE EGGPLANTS: Using the tip of a small knife, make 4 (1/2-inch deep) incisions along the length or each eggplant, starting a 1/4- inch below the top to 1/4-inch from the bottom.
Place 3 cups of cold water in a large bowl. Add 1½ tablespoons salt and stir until dissolved. Add eggplants and place a small dish on top to keep them submerged. Let soak for 2 hours.
MAKE THE SAUCE: Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 6 minutes, until soft. Add tomatoes and basil and thin out with 1/2 to 1 cup warm water to achieve a medium consistency. Bring to a boil. Stir in sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover with lid, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Set aside.
STUFF THE EGGPLANTS: Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Drain eggplants and pat dry. With one hand gently squeeze an eggplant between your thumb and forefinger to force each incision open, place a piece of cheese, a mint leaf or a pinch of basil, and a slice of garlic into each incision. Repeat with remaining eggplants.
SAUTE THE EGGPLANT: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplants and cook 5 minutes. Turn the eggplants over and cook 5 additional minutes.
BAKE THE EGGPLANTS: Place the eggplants in an 8-inch round or square baking dish, cover with the sauce and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until eggplants are soft and tender when pierced with a fork.