Some beautiful foods just aren't pretty to look at, and these eggplant cakes fall into that category. They taste wonderful and take on a beautiful brown color, but on the plate it looks like fried mud and grass clippings. In spite of their unassuming looks, we enjoyed these little tidbits from Marcella Hazan's tome Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It has long been a favorite of mine and was my introduction to true Italian cooking.
If you are up to your knees in eggplant this summer, this is a great way to use a couple of them. Hazan's recipe calls for roasting the eggplants in the oven, but I avoid turning on the oven in July and August unless there's a really darn good reason, such as a Daring Baker's challenge or a birthday cake to bake. These went onto a hot grill and I turned them every 10 minutes to make sure they cooked evenly.
Getting the oil temperature just right for an operation like this can be a bit tricky. You want the cakes to fry, not soak. If the oil isn't hot enough, the cakes will absorb oil and become greasy, definitely not tasty. Make sure the oil temperature is right about 350° F/175° C but not higher than 375° F/190° C. The temperature will drop slightly when you add the eggplant, but not enough to cause them to soak.
Hazan offers a recipe for a tomato sauce with onions to which you add the fried cakes while it's cooking. We did our own variation on that by using pasta sauce with roasted garlic and an onion confit, piling both on top. It was a very tasty combination! You can even add a layer of mozzarella cheese, just fry the cakes and then top with cheese and bake in the oven at 400° F/200° C until the cheese melts. See the Recipe Notes below.
Italian Grilled Eggplant Cakes
- grill or oven
- large bowl
- frying pan
- instead read thermometer (for checking oil temperature)
- 2 large plates, line one with paper towels
- small plate
- 2 pounds eggplant
- 1/3 cup unseasoned bread crumbs (lightly toasted, or gluten-free bread crumbs)
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped fine)
- 2 cloves garlic (peeled and minced)
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (fresh grated)
- salt to taste
- black pepper (fresh ground, to taste)
- canola oil (enough to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the frying pan)
- unbleached all-purpose flour (spread on a small plate, or brown rice flour)
- Preheat the grill or oven to 400° F/200° C.
- Wash the eggplants and do not trim. Keep them whole and intact. Rub the grill down with some canola oil and place the eggplants on the grill. Cook, turning every 10 minutes, until tender and a toothpick pierces the skin easily, about 40 minutes. (For the oven, place the eggplant directly on the rack and put a baking pan below to catch the drips.)
- Set the eggplant on a plate to cool. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin away and discard. Cut the eggplant into several large pieces and place in a colander over a deep dish for about 15 minutes. Allow the juices to drain away, squeezing the pieces as necessary to encourage the eggplant to shed it's liquid.
- Chop the eggplant very fine and combine in the mixing bowl with the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, egg, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Mix it all together with your hands until it's uniform. Shape into little cakes about 2 inches (about 5 cm) across and 1/2-inch thick (about 1 cm). Lay the cakes on a large plate.
- Pour the canola oil into the frying pan until it comes about 1/2-inch (1 cm) up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat on high. When the oil is very hot (375° F/190° C), dip the cakes in flour on each side and gently slide into the oil. Don't overcrowd the pan, allow plenty of room between the cakes. When the crust gets nice and brown, flip them over. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove to a large plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle some more salt on top while still hot.
- Serve hot or warm with some pasta sauce and sauteed onions (onion confit) on the side.