This dish was time-consuming to prepare but it was absolutely FABULOUS. Completely worth every second. It is a classic Sicilian recipe enhanced by the addition of dried wild mushrooms. The “meatballs” were very flavorful and tender, and held together nicely. The sauce was enhanced with the addition of the mushroom soaking liquid- perfect.
This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Domenica Marchetti, author of The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. Next time, I will make it ahead of time and double the recipe. Great.
2021 Update: I made the meatballs a day in advance and refrigerated them on a sheet pan covered with plastic wrap overnight. I refrigerated the mushroom soaking liquid as well. I also doubled the recipe and froze an entire batch to enjoy at a later date. 🙂 We ate the meatballs and sauce over pasta with crusty bread on the side.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
Total Time: approximately 2 hours
- 1 large eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms or mixed dry wild mushrooms (shiitake, porcini, black, & oyster)
- boiling water
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 6-7 garlic cloves, finely grated with a garlic press, divided
- two 28-ounce cans imported whole Italian tomatoes, pureed with their juices
- 2 T chopped basil, plus leaves for garnish, divided
- coarse salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving
- 1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
- all-purpose flour, for coating
- vegetable oil, for frying
- crusty bread, for serving
- cooked pasta, for serving, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°, preferably on convection roast.
- Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed.
- Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin. Lightly shred with two forks.
- Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, cover the dry mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, 30 minutes; drain, reserving the soaking liquid.
- Rinse the mushrooms to remove any grit. Finely chop.
- In an enameled cast-iron casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil until shimmering.
- Add the onion and half of the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree and pour in the mushroom soaking liquid, stopping before reaching the grit; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, 1 hour.
- Add half of the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.
- Fold the chopped mushrooms, bread crumbs, eggs, 2 ounces of cheese, parsley and the remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large cookie scoop, form the eggplant mixture into twenty (I had 24 using a 1 1/2 pound eggplant.) 1 3/4-inch balls, rolling tightly.
- Dust the balls with flour and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes (or overnight).
- In a large nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat a scant 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
- Add half (12) of the meatballs at a time and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 4-5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel- lined plate or baking sheet.
- Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Garnish the meatballs with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread, grated cheese, and pasta, as desired.