Stuffing vegetables is a very common practice in all of the Mediterranean. Eggplants, capsicums, zucchini, tomatoes or even vine leaves can be stuffed with a meat or rice filling and then baked in the oven. They make a wonderful side dish and can be enjoyed all year round, using whichever vegetable is in season at the time.
My favourite vegetable to enjoy stuffed with beef are eggplants, which are currently in season in Melbourne. Eggplants contain bitter substances which must be drawn out before you cook them. This is done by a process known as degorging, where you cut the eggplant open, sprinkle it with salt and then wait for liquid containing the bitter substances to form on the surface- this liquid is then rinsed away and the eggplants are patted dry.
The filling for these eggplants is basically a meatball mixture, with the addition of the pulp from the inside of the eggplants. As always, the filling tastes better if you make your own fresh breadcrumbs. All you need to do is toast some old bread (in this instance I used wholemeal multigrain bread), roughly tear it up then process it in a food processor until you’ve got breadcrumbs.
Makes 8 serves
4 large eggplants, washed and stems cut off
800g minced beef
2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 cup freshly-made breadcrumbs
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup parsley, chopped
Freshly-ground black pepper
2/3 cup tomato and herb sauce
1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways. Then using a knife, remove the pulp from the middle of each eggplant half, leaving the shells about 1cm thick. Take care not to cut through the shells as you don’t want any of the filling to fall out. Reserve the pulp.
2. Sprinkle salt over the 8 eggplant shells, then place them in a colander in your sink to allow the bitterness to be drawn out (this may take an hour or so).
3. While the eggplants are degorging, prepare the filling. Begin by roughly dicing the eggplant pulp.
4. Next, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, then add the eggplant pulp and gently sauté it until it becomes golden and tender. Remove it from the heat.
5. Preheat your oven to 190°C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and lightly drizzle it with olive oil.
6. In a large bowl, add the minced beef, eggs, red onion, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley and the cooked pulp. Season with freshly-ground black pepper, then stir it well to combine.
7. Once the bitter liquid has formed on the surface of the eggplant shells, rinse it off then gently pat them dry with some paper towel.
8. Evenly fill each eggplant shell with the beef mixture, pressing it down with a fork. Place the filled eggplants in the baking tray in a single layer.
9. Spoon about one tablespoon or so of sauce over each of the eggplants. If you like you can also sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over the sauce.
10. Cover the tray with foil and bake at 190°C for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake them for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.
*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!