Eggplant Meatballs with Spicy Marinara

Have I mentioned that I love eggplant?

Oh yeah, in yesterday’s blog.

I also mentioned that I tend to buy it in large quantities (ie 5 or 6 at a time), so I end up doing a variety of things with it over the course of a week or so.

One of the easiest things to do with eggplant is poke a whole eggplant a few times with a fork and roast it in the oven. What temperature? Well, the hotter the better, but again, I was baking my way through giving cookies to every man, woman and child, so it was a bit moderate.

Anyways, because most of my baking has a 190C/375F oven, I happened to roast my eggplant at that temperature. It takes a little longer, but it’s ok, it sat in one corner of the oven while cookie sheet after cookie sheet went in and out over the course of the afternoon.

The idea behind this recipe is a culmination of years of cookbook reading, listening to old friends’ Italian parents and plain old experimentation and fun in the kitchen. And of course the days when food TV taught people how to COOK SOMETHING!!! Sorry, anytime I think of food TV now, shouting has to happen. That’s what it’s become….but that’s a rant for another day 😉

Tonight, I wanted to make something I hadn’t made in years. Through the latter half of the 90s I was vegetarian. Not vegan because of one word: cheese. But a lot of my culinary creativity came from not eating meat for five years. These meatballs are hearty, satisfying and with the blend of fennel seed and chillis, its flavour is bold and wonderful on its own. I don’t say things like “oh, you won’t miss the meat” because this is a very different thing. An eggplant meatball has a unique beauty of its own and it’s a nice change to a regular spaghetti and meatballs dish.

Eggplant Meatballs with Spicy Marinara

For the Eggplant Meatballs:

1 300g/12oz whole eggplant

2 Tbsp cold pressed canola oil (if needed)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 large egg

2 tsp fennel seeds, ground

1/2 tsp hot Hungarian paprika

1/3 cup shredded pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)

1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs

   Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.

   Lay the whole eggplant on the prepared baking sheet. Pierce the skin of the eggplant with a fork or sharp knife a few times. Roast in the oven for an hour, or until very soft. Allow to cool.

   When the eggplant is cool, peel away the skin, and place the roasted flesh into a blender. Purée until nearly smooth. If the eggplant needs a little help to purée, add the oil. Once puréed, place into a strainer over a medium bowl. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper over the roasted eggplant purée. Place a small bowl over that and stack one or two heavy cans or jars on top to press the purée to squeeze out as much of the excess moisture as possible (about 30-40 minutes).

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Once the purée has strained, reserve the liquid for the sauce later, and add the purée to a medium bowl. Add the garlic, egg, ground fennel seed, paprika, pecorino and breadcrumbs. Stir together with your hands to combine. Form the mixture into 8 meatballs.

   Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 2-3 Tbsp oil and when the oil is smouldering hot, but not smoking, add the meatballs and fry for about 90 seconds per side. It doesn’t take long since the interior is already cooked. You’re simply getting a nice brown crust along the outside. Remove from the pan and drain the excess oil away on paper towels.

For the Spicy Marinara:

2 tsp cold pressed canola oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground red chilli flakes

2 cups basic tomato sauce or tomato purée (sometimes called “passata” in the Italian section of a larger grocery store. I tend to make my own basic sauce and keep some in the freezer for moments like this)

Reserved Roasted Eggplant “essence” drained from the purée

   In a medium pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and dried chilli. When they start to soften, get aromatic and just lightly brown along the edges, add the tomato sauce and eggplant “essence.” Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes to harmonize the flavours.

To serve:

   Cook 200g/7oz of spaghetti (or linguine in my case tonight because I was out of spaghetti), toss with the Spicy Marinara and prepared Eggplant Meatballs. Top with a bit of extra shredded pecorino cheese, if desired. Serves 2.

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