Dreaming of Italy? Enjoy the flavor of your favorite destination right in your own home kitchen with this stuffed eggplant recipe.
Need more recipes inspired by Italy? Try these!
One of the greatest things about traveling to other parts of the world is connecting with other people. Several years ago I had the pleasure of taking an in-home cooking class with Carmelita of Cook Italy.
She taught four of us how to make pasta from scratch and we had the most lovely time.
I’ve been in touch with Carmelita a few times since our visit, and she was kind enough to share her recipe for stuffed eggplant here. This vegetarian recipe calls for stuffing eggplant with a lovely tomato sauce and spaghetti pasta. This is a traditional recipe served up in the Sicilian region and the southern parts of Italy.
Eggplant: Use large eggplants that are round in shape. This isn’t the place for long, skinny eggplant.
Spaghetti: Use thin spaghetti noodles or common (thicker) spaghetti noodles. Either are just fine.
Tomato puree: Italian passata is ideal here, but there if that’s not available to you, opt for the American version, labeled as puree. (We’re not talking about tomato paste here.)
Cheese: Carmelita suggests Caciocavallo stagionato as the best option, but unless you have an Italian deli nearby, you might have to make some substitutes here. Try Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan cheese.
Green onions: Cipollotto onions are bunching onions, and what Carmelita suggests. A good substitute for those of us in America are plain green onions.
Vinegar: Choose a mild red wine vinegar.
Fresh basil: You’ll add whole stems of basil to the tomato sauce after it has cooled slightly, and then remove them before adding the noodles.
Making this Stuffed Eggplant Recipe
Cut off the top of the eggplant (the stem end) and trace the cut edge with a small sharp knife. Cut the flesh in crosshatches for easier removal. Remove the flesh of the eggplant with a grapefruit spoon. To help the eggplant sit upright, slice a thin wedge off the bottom. Set the shells aside.
Make the tomato sauce in a large skillet by softening the onion, frying the eggplant chunks, then combining the fried eggplant and onions with the tomato puree.
Cook the eggplant shells and pasta in boiling water. You’ll do this in two separate pots.
When the pasta is cooked very al dente, combine it with the tomato sauce and all but 2-3 tablespoons of the cheese.
Fill the eggplant shells with the pasta, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Then (here’s a surprise!) leave the stuffed eggplant in the oven for up to 2-1/2 hours before eating. Carmelita says this is how it’s done in Southern Italy, and that doing so allows the flavors to blend. The dish might be closer to room temperature than hot when it’s served!
Because the eggplant will sit in the oven for a time before being served, it’s a great make-ahead dish for hosting guests.
This eggplant dish makes a great vegetarian main dish when served with a simple green salad and crusty bread.
Place stuffed eggplant in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for several days.
While it’s not exactly an Italian vacation, the amazing flavors of this Sicilian dish will hold you over until you can travel again.
To reheat leftovers the next day (or within a few days), place stuffed eggplant in a baking dish. Add enough water to the pan to just cover the bottom. Bake on low heat (300ºF) until heated through. You might find that leftovers taste even better than the first time you served it! (That seems to be the way of some leftovers, doesn’t it?)
Sure! And I bet many Sicilian versions of this dish do just that, as a way to be more frugal in the kitchen.
The skin of eggplant is entirely edible. The skin of young eggplant will be more tender than that of very mature fruit. Boiling the eggplant as you do in this recipe will help make the skin more tender and less bitter.
- 4 small or 2 regular eggplants
- 200g thin spaghetti (7 oz)
- 400g tomato puree (14.1 oz)
- 100g Caciocavallo stagionato cheese or substitute Pecorino Sardo
- 2 fresh cipollotti onions with green stems (green onions)
- fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons mild wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for basting)
- Preheat the oven to 350Fº (180Cº).
- Wash and dry the eggplants. Remove the tops and discard. Cut a slice off the base so the eggplant stands steady. To make the eggplant shell into a container you need to hollow it out, leaving a 1-centimeter thickness all around the shell edge and bottom. Use a small sharp knife to trace the edge and then make cross hatch cuts.
- Remove the eggplant flesh using a grapefruit spoon, making sure not to cut too deep.
- Slice the onions and dice small. Soften them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons water from time to time, so they don't fry or color, and adding in any small bits of eggplant from the center.
- In a separate pan, fry the larger eggplant cubes until golden. Add the eggplant to the onions along with the tomato puree and simmer over medium heat for another 15 minutes.
- When the tomato and eggplant sauce has thickened, allow to cool for 10 minutes before putting in two or three large sprigs of basil with the leaves still on the stems. If you put the basil in when the sauce is too hot, it will oxidize, turning black and losing all flavor.
- Put a small pot of water on for cooking the eggplant shells and a large pot for cooking the spaghetti. To make eating easier, break the spaghetti into half. Add about a teaspoon of salt when the water has come to the boil, then cook the pasta for 3 minutes less than the packet instructions say.
- Grate the cheese finely while the pasta cooks.
- When the water in the smaller pot has come to the boil, add a little salt and the vinegar, then put in the eggplant shell. Cook at a gentle boil for 8 to 10 minutes. It should be tender but firm enough to stay upright.
- Place the eggplant shells upside down on a plate so water can drain out, then dry the inside with a sheet of kitchen paper (aka paper towels). Brush the inside with a little extra virgin olive oil.
- Remove the basil from the tomato sauce and add the well-drained and very al dente pasta to the pan. Set aside 2 or 3 tablespoons of the grated cheese and mix the rest with the spaghetti.
- Fill the 4 eggplant shells with the spaghetti and sprinkle some of the reserved grated cheese on top of each one.
- Place in a lightly oiled baking dish and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The spaghetti at the top of the dish may begin to brown lightly and become crispy. At the end of cooking time, turn the oven off and leave the stuffed eggplants in there for at least an hour and a half, up to 2.5 hours before eating as Southern Italians do. This is important as the flavors blend together beautifully and you can taste everything better if you wait and eat the dish lukewarm.
If you have very large eggplants, cut them in half, and stuff each half.
Carmelita suggests Caciocavallo cheese as the best option, but unless you have an Italian deli nearby, you might have to make some substitutes here. Try Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan cheese.
This traditional Sicilian recipe is served at room temperature or lukewarm.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 402Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 32mgSodium: 443mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 11gSugar: 17gProtein: 16g