Breaded Eggplant Balls with Mozzarella Centers

Palline di Melanzana e Mozzarella

When I wait at the hairdresser or in a doctor’s office I always turn to the culinary columns in the Italian women’s weeklies that are stacked on the table, but it takes a long wait to come across something appealing. I found this variation on the classic combination of eggplant and mozzarella intriguing, and I thought it worth working on.

When you use eggplant in a composed dish, it is usually fried first, but here it is baked, a somewhat simpler operation. You grind the baked eggplant flesh and mix it with egg, Parmesan, and bread crumbs. This mixture is then formed into balls and mozzarella is inserted in the center. The balls are then breaded and fried and make quite a delicious mouthful.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium eggplants, about 1½ to 2 pounds
  • Salt
  • cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped very fine
  • 2 eggs
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ¼ cup fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs plus 1 cup spread on a plate
  • tablespoons flour
  • 3 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1-inch cubes, about cups
  • Vegetable oil

Method

  1. Wash the eggplants and cut them into slices ½ inch thick.
  2. Set a pasta colander over a bowl and begin lining it with eggplant slices. When you have covered the inside of the colander with one layer of eggplant, sprinkle it liberally with salt, and continue thus using all the eggplant. Let it steep for 30 to 40 minutes.
  3. Turn on the oven to 350°.
  4. Pat the eggplant slices dry with a kitchen towel and spread them on a baking sheet or in a shallow baking pan large enough to accommodate them in a single layer without overlapping. Place the pan in the upper level of the preheated oven and cook for about 40 minutes until the eggplant is tender and dry.
  5. Chop the eggplant, using the food processor if you like, but taking care not chop it too fine. Put it in a bowl; add the grated Parmesan, chopped parsley, one egg, liberal grindings of pepper, and the ¼ cup of bread crumbs; and mix thoroughly.
  6. Break the remaining egg into another bowl, beat it well, then beat the flour into it a little at a time to obtain a smooth batter.
  7. Shape the eggplant mixture into spherical patties just slightly smaller than a Ping-Pong ball. Bury a piece of mozzarella in the center, making sure it is completely covered by eggplant. Turn the balls one at a time in the egg batter, then roll them over the bread crumbs in the plate.
  8. Pour enough oil in a medium-size skillet to come at least ½ inch up the sides of the pan, and turn the heat on to high. As soon as the oil is hot—a dab of batter dropped into it should sizzle and float instantly—slip in as many of the breaded eggplant balls as will fit without crowding the pan. As soon as they have formed a golden crust all over, retrieve them with a slotted spoon or spatula and place them on a rack or on a platter lined with paper towels. Proceed thus until you have fried all the eggplant balls. Serve piping hot, or lukewarm, or even at room temperature.

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