The poor eggplant, melanzane in Italian; from mela–non sana, “not healthy apple”.
The eggplant, like the potatoes, bell peppers and chili peppers are edible nightshade vegetables.
When these foods were first introduced into the Italian diet, the first reaction was that they were not good for you and were often planted for their flowers in the gardens in Florence.
I adore eggplant and find those that don’t love it, often have not have them prepared correctly. In the Mediterranean, eggplant can be found in almost all the cultures. Italians have a way with this vegetable, preparing it in a million ways, often replacing meat in the meal as do the Greeks and the Arabs.
Eggplants are sliced and salted and layered in a colander with a weight on top for an hour or so, then rinsed and patted dry before cooking. I don’t find eggplant bitter, not sure what causes people to say that. I have had them slow roasted in the oven with garlic to make a baba ganoush or boiled in vinegar and wine to be preserved for appetizers later in the year.
I adore then simply grilled and marinated as I learned from Benita at the Mercato Centrale in Florence – in her Sicilian way.
Probably the most famous dish is Eggplant Parmesan- Melanzane alla Parmigiano.
The eggplant is sliced and the slices layered in a colander with salt lightly sprinkled between layers. I put a small plate on top, and then a pot full of water to weigh down the plate.
Leave the eggplant to drain for about an hour.
Rinse off the salt. I then press on the slices to remove any liquids.
This also helps the eggplant from absorbing oil when cooking.
Dip the slices into flour and fry.
I let drain on paper towel after cooked.
For a light summer version, I made a nice spicy tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers and canned tomatoes. Lightly salt to taste and cook until the tomatoes break down.
I then placed the eggplant slices in the tomato sauce.
I stack the eggplant two slices high and then flip to cover both sides with sauce.
I grated some cacio cavallo cheese on top and let simmer.
no need for layering with tons of mozzarella, which to me makes it heavy, this was the perfect meal.
I was on a quest to recreate a dessert I had years ago in California at a restaurant owned by a friend from Naples. Giuseppe, who has since passed away, made a chocolate eggplant “cake”.
It was incredible! I find that the Italians are very creative, must come from living through the war and making the best with what one has.
The history of the recipe which I received a copy of from Giuseppe’s brother, Mimmo, was traced back to the Franciscan monks. Twice-fried eggplant is dipped in a chocolate and liquor based sauce and layered with chopped walnuts and candied fruit.
Giuseppe’s version was served by the slice, like a cake and he used candied ginger. Traditionally the slices are dipped and then layered on a serving tray and the chopped nuts and chopped candied orange rind are sprinkled in top.
It makes sense when you make the eggplant for eggplant parmesan. The eggplant actually tastes sweet when fried in an egg batter, more like a little pancake. I am sure that some mamma had some left-0ver fried eggplant and decided to use some to make a cheap sweet for her kids, using what was in the house. Cocoa powder, milk and a little kick with the liquor.
I served single slices filled with ricotta like a “Cannolo” for one version, then tried layering in a small bowl to create a more formal presention, as in the foto.
Not bad, but I will stick with eggplant parmesan as is and keep my chocolate for dessert!
( I am tempted though to make an eggplant jam!)
Melanzane a cioccolato:
Prepare the eggplant with the salt and under weights as above. Pat dry and lightly flour and fry.
When you remove from the oil, dip in a mixture of cocoa powder, cinnamon and sugar:
1/2 c sugar
2 tbs flour
1/4 c cocoa powder
Make a chocolate sauce:
Dissolve 1/4 cup cocoa powder in 1 cup milk over the heat with 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tbs butter.
Cook for 3 minutes and let cool.
Off the heat add 1/4 cup kahlua ( they use a liquor from the town of Maiori called Concertina, made with barley (orzo), coffee and spices.
If you want to make your own : here is the recipe!
I also added some pieces of bittersweet chocolate to thicken the sauce.
( I think that Giuseppe’s cake was melted chocolate with cream, like ganache, as it set up differently and was more “candy-like”.
Dip the fried eggplant into the chocolate sauce and lay on a serving tray.
Cover the slices with crushed walnuts, hazelnuts, pinuts and chopped candied fruit ( I prefer orange rind and candied ginger, no cherries for me!)
This would be the “original” version which is mostly still made today.
I made mine layered and sliced into mini portions.
Have fun with this!