These Calabrian eggplant polpette are one of my favourite late summer/early autumn things to cook. They really are a must try for vegetarians and eggplant lovers but in saying that, my friends and family who are meat eaters can't stop eating them either. They are one of those things that quickly disappear, sometimes before they are served at the table.
Most of the time I eat them with a tomato, onion and basil salad but this combination of fresh tomato, garlic and basil in a roll is truly delicious and in keeping with my juicy panino obsession. People in Calabria would make this as a cheaper alternative to meatballs and often serve them in a tomato sauce which is also extremely tasty. Yes, there is a pattern here. The juicy late tomatoes, usually from the garden, are a perfect match for the rich fried eggplant.
2 medium eggplants (about 450g)
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1 clove of garlic minced
3 tbsp of basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
extra virgin olive oil for frying
For the panino
nice bread (I use a sourdough baguette or ciabatta rolls)
garlic clove, peeled
Put eggplants in a baking tray and roast at 200C for about 20 minutes, or until charred and sunken. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Cut them in half lengthways and scoop out the insides using a spoon (you can use the baking tray instead of a bowl to avoid washing up if the sides are deep enough). If there is a lot of water coming from the eggplants drain it out. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, basil and cheeses. Mix until combined and then add salt and pepper to taste.
Roll into balls the size of a walnut and transfer them to a large plate as you work. If you find the balls aren't forming well and the mixture is too wet add more breadcrumbs.
Pour olive oil in a large skillet or fry pan to a depth of 1cm, any less and the polpette won't fry properly. Turn the heat to medium and test a ball once the oil begins to shimmer. If it sizzles immediately add a single layer of polpette to the pan, they should fit snugly without crowding.
Fry the polpette turning them gently with tongs or a spoon until they are brown all over (this should take around 3 minutes). Transfer them to a tray lined with paper towels and let cool for 15 minutes. Like lots of good things they are at their best after a little rest.
To make the panino, cut a tomato in half and grate it into a small bowl using the big holes of a box grater, until just the skin is left. Stir in a little olive oil and salt to taste. The amount of olive oil you use will depend on how big your tomato is but about 1 tbsp per medium tomato will work. Cut your bread open and grill it. Rub the inside of both sides with the garlic clove, the more you rub the more bite it will have. Spoon on the tomato and spread it over both sides of the bread. Place a few basil leaves on the base of your roll and then the eggplant polpette on top. A little cheese works nicely too, but not a must. Wish I could see people's faces when they tuck into this.