Calabrese Fried Eggplant


4 to 6 servings
Vegetable oil cooking sprayvegetable cooking spray1
One 1-pound eggplant, ends trimmed, halved lengthwiseeggplant1
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oilextra-virgin olive oil1
1 cup grated pecorino cheesepecorino romano cheese1
½ cup plain breadcrumbs, plus extra, as neededplain breadcrumbs½
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leavesbasil leaves¼
1 large egg, beatenegg(s)1
2 cloves garlic, mincedgarlic clove2
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsleyflat-leaf parsley2
2 cups jarred marinara or tomato-basil saucemarinara sauce2
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakesred pepper flakes¾
Vegetable oil, for fryingvegetable oil1
½ cup grated pecorino cheesepecorino romano cheese½


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a small baking sheet or a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Place the eggplant, cut-side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Make 1/2-inch-deep slits over the surface of the eggplant halves using a paring knife. Drizzle with the olive oil and bake until golden and tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.
Scoop out 1 cup of flesh from the eggplant, using a spoon, and place in a food processor. Blend until the eggplant is smooth. Add the cheese, breadcrumbs, basil, egg, garlic and parsley. Pulse until the mixture is thick enough to form into balls, adding extra breadcrumbs as needed. Scoop 25 balls of the mixture, each about 2 tablespoons, onto a baking sheet using a small cookie scoop.
Bring the marinara and red pepper flakes to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
Pour enough oil into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted into the oil reaches 350 degrees F. (If you don't have a thermometer, a cube of bread will brown in about 4 minutes.) In batches, fry the eggplant balls until golden, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the fried eggplant warm or cold with marinara sauce and the grated pecorino cheese.
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