Italians are very familiar with meatballs, it’s part of our vocab from the time we can form words. “Eggplant balls” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. They could really use a new name. But ever since I saw Giada make these I couldn’t get them off my mind. They are crunchy on the outside, tender and packed with fresh flavors from Italy on the inside. I don’t know why I’ve never made these before. My sister (the photographer) and I had a lot of fun making this dish! Wine helps.
I’ve never used a deep fryer before and I try to be healthy, but you can’t beat the color and texture a nice deep fry provides. I will try baking them the next time for a healthier spin, but for a splurge, this recipe was perfect and delicious. Here is the link to Giada’s recipe which I did modify.
- Olive oil spray
- Eggplants cut in half, ends trimmed and halved lengthwise
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
- 1 cup Italian plain breadcrumbs, plus extra, as needed
- Fresh chopped basil leaves
- 1 large egg
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- A handful or so of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Small mozzarella balls (optional)
- 2 cups jarred marinara or tomato sauce (I do not like jarred sauce with one exception. Jerry’s sauce. See the photo below. It’s better than sauces I have in most restaurants.)
- 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Vegetable oil, for frying
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small baking sheet or baking dish with 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. Spray with the olive oil and bake until golden and tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.
For the filling: Scoop out the inside of the eggplant, using a spoon, and place in a food processor. Blend until the eggplant is smooth.
Add the cheese, breadcrumbs, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley to a bowl and mix well.
Add the egg and eggplant. The mixture should be thick enough to form into balls. Add more breadcrumbs as needed. We made 15 balls out of the mixture, but we made them the size of meatballs. If you want these as an appetizer you could make them smaller.
For the sauce: 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. This is the amazing sauce I was telling you about. And it is now sold at Whole Foods. It’s worth every penny. Trust me.
Pour oil into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan to fill the pan enough to cover the balls. Heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to roll. (Giada says if you don’t have a thermometer, a cube of bread will brown in about 4 minutes. We just threw a piece of garlic in to see if it was ready) In batches, fry the eggplant balls until golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Serve the fried eggplant with marinara sauce and the grated pecorino cheese. We enjoyed them with a nice big plate of pasta! What’s better than spaghetti and fried eggplant balls? We forgot to take a photo of our dinner plates because well, we were too busy stuffing our faces. Enjoy!