19 November 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Stuffed Eggplants alla Abruzzese

CHIAVARI, Italy - This eggplant recipe was classified on an Italian web site as a casalese specialty, but since I didn’t know who the Casalese were, I Googled them.
Castelbordino, Abruzzo
Much to my surprise the only casalesi I found was a clan of Casalesi in the province of Caserta, and they appear to be a cast of pretty rough characters. It was eminently clear that the Caserta Casalesi walk around saying things like “how you doin’’ and they were not the casalesi I was looking for. I was looking the casalesi who hang around their kitchens cooking eggplants. Sorry guys, my mistake.

So I tried the Google search  again. Nothing. I found casolani in Casoli and calascini in Calascio, castellatesi in Castellalto, castellani in Castelli and just as I was about to give up, there it was, casalesi in Castelbordino, province of Chieti, in Abruzzo.

These Egglplants are Too Big  
If it’s the right place, and I’m sure that it is, Castelbordino is a small town of about 6,000 people that has been around for a long time. Actually make that a really long time as archeologists have found traces of a civilization there that dates back to the XI century BC.  It looks like a nice town, a pretty town, the kind of town where people really do hang out in their kitchens stuffing and cooking eggplants. The kind of town you’d want to live in.

It’s almost a miracle that anything, especially culinary traditions, survived in Abruzzo given the area’s turbulent history. Even if you start in the middle of their history when the Romans and the Goths battled it out during the Gothic War, pretty much whatever there was of value in Abruzzo, was destroyed. Then, when the German Lombards, the Normans and God only knows who else came along, all hell broke loose and actually, from that point on and centuries after, it was one war after another each one doing as much or more damage than the one before it.

These Eggplants are Too Small
So we should thank whomever it was that had the good sense to pass this recipe down through the generations because it’s very good. There was something about this dish that intrigued me, although I confess when it was cooking, and the once little shiny and round eggplants were all wrinkled and kind of shriveled up, I was feeling a little less enthusiastic about it. But I kept going.

Like many home style Italian recipes there are no specific amounts given. How much of one thing or another you use depends on how much you are making. This is a recipe for experienced cooks, cooks who cook by ‘eye’, or as my friend Gary likes to say, ‘by the seat of their pants’, although I never did understand how the seat of your pants had anything to do with cooking. Doesn’t matter, I still love him and he is an amazing cook, so I guess it works. Here’s the recipe, with some of my observations added in. 
These Eggplants are Just Right

Stuffed Eggplants Casalesi (Abruzzo) Style

Cut the stems off of the eggplants. With a paring knife, carefully remove the interior flesh. You don’t want to break or puncture the skin of the small eggplants. I found that a knife with a serrated edge worked best, especially for the small eggplants that I used.

Put the scooped out eggplant pulp in a colander and rinse it under running water to remove the seeds. Chop or cut the pulp into small bits and set it aside to add to the filling. If you use  small eggplants like I did, there really isn’t a lot pulp, but it doesn’t matter. Just use what you have. After you have scooped all of the pulp out of the eggplant, rinse them under running water and put them cut side down on a kitchen towel to drain.

Make a filling using sausage meat, the pulp of the eggplant, day-old breadcrumbs, eggs, chopped fresh tomato, grated cheese, chopped basil and parsley. If you have another filling that you prefer, you can use that one instead.

I used sausage, the little bit of eggplant pulp I had, a chopped onion, a very little bit of very finely diced celery, anise seeds and an Italian roll that I chopped up into very small pieces. A food processer would have done a better job on the roll, but it was okay. And before I stuffed the eggplants I grated some Pecorino Romano over the filling and mixed it in.

When all the eggplants are filled, sauté them in some olive oil until they are wrinkled.

 At this point you can make a simple tomato sauce using: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 garlic clove, 4 or 5 fresh tomatoes or 1 large can of peeled tomatoes, fresh parsley and basil, salt and black pepper - simmer for 15 minutes. Again I used my own recipe that calls for a small can of polpa di pomodoro, which is chopped up peeled tomatoes, some tomato paste, which I diluted using a little broth (brodo), made from a bouillon cube and a little fresh rosemary.

When the sauce had cooked for about 10 or 15 minutes, I added the stuffed eggplants and cooked everything together for another half an hour on a low flame. It smelled delicious.

 Because I grew up in the States and like one dish meals, I boiled some pasta – pacheri to be precise – and put it with the sauce and the eggplant. There are no photos of this because by then I was starving and so I took a vote as to whether I should just sit down and eat or take some photos, and taking photos lost. Buon appetito. 

p.s. it's probably best if you don't use big eggplants for this recipe, they would be difficult to handle, smallish eggplants would be best. The baby ones I used were ok, but I wouldn't use them again simply because they took forever to scoop out. 

Thanks go to casa-giardino.blogspot.it for the original recipe and the photo of the finished dish

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