This recipe is from Puglia.
To fully understand Italian cuisine, it’s important to note the major difference between it and, for example, French cuisine.
French cuisine is the cuisine of the chef. Home cooks spend a lot of time trying to live up to the creations and recipes coming out of the important restaurants in Paris and beyond. In France, chefs are celebrities: household names that everyone has heard of whether or not you can afford to eat in one of their stellar establishments. The publication of a new Michelin Guide makes the national headlines.
Italian cuisine is the cuisine of the mamma, or even la nonna (grandmother). Chefs in restaurants spend a lot of time trying to live up the the food their mothers and grandmothers cooked for them when they were young. Restaurants need to equal the standards of the dishes prepared by their customers’ mamme and nonne, which as you can imagine, is not easy.
Since this has always been the case, the recipes that your grandmother cooked would have been handed down to her by her grandmother and her grandmother before her and so mostly date back to the time well before Italian unification in 1871. This is one reason why Italian cuisine remains extremely regional with big differences in dishes from north to south, east to west. It also explains why Italians tend to be very conservative in their cooking and eating habits, after all, you can’t change nonna‘s recipe, God rest her soul!
This recipe was given to me by my friend Claudio and is a recipe handed down to his parents from his grandmother, Checchina. Although he was born and lives in Venice, both of his parents are from Puglia, in the south of Italy, so this is an authentic recipe from that region. It’s also the first Puglian recipe to feature on this blog.
The recipe calls for the eggplants (or aubergines) to be fried twice. The second frying is a delicate operation as the filling and topping are quite liquid, so the whole thing needs to be lowered very carefully into the oil. However, for a slightly easier (and perhaps healthier) version of the dish, you can put them in a hot oven for 15 minutes until the topping has browned. But you know it’s going to taste better fried …
For the cheese, I used a hard pecorino, but you can use any kind of hard cheese, even parmigiano reggiano. Nonna Checchina would have used a local Puglian cheese.
If, like me, you adore eggplant, this dish will send you to heaven. Cheese really brings out the similar flavour of the eggplant which tends towards mouth-puckering strength—like a mature artisan cheddar. The capers, anchovies and olives, give a wonderful depth to the saltiness.
These can be served as an antipasto, as a vegetable side (contorno) or even as a main course with a side salad. Buon appetito!
Melanzane ripiene della nonna Checchina
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
oil for frying
2 large eggplants
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
10 black olives, finely chopped
200g (7 ounces) grated cheese
- Heat the oil to 160°C (320°F) in a deep-fat fryer.
- Cut the eggplants in half lengthways.
- With a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the eggplant leaving a rim of about 1cm around the edge of the skins. Put the flesh to one side.
- Fry the eggplants skins in the deep-fat fryer for about 3 minutes or until they start to go brown on the inside. Remove from the oil, drain, and allow to cool.
- Chop the flesh of the eggplants into small pieces.
- In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and then gently fry the garlic for about two minutes.
- Add the eggplant flesh, salt and pepper, and then fry for about five minutes until the eggplant changes to a greenish-grey colour.
- Add the capers, anchovy fillets, and olives and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Add 100g (3 1/2 ounces) of the grated cheese, one egg, and one tablespoon of breadcrumbs to the eggplant flesh. Stir until combined. Use this to fill the eggplant skins.
- Mix the remaining grated cheese with two eggs. It should be quite liquid.
- Pour the cheese and egg mixture over the top of the eggplants to cover the filling. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs.
- Carefully lower the eggplants, stuffed side up into the oil and fry until they rise to the top and the surface is brown and crispy, about 4 minutes.
- Remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper to cool.
- Serve warm, or cold.