Dubrovnik-style stuffed eggplant/aubergine | Punjeni patlidžani/balancane na Dubrovački

After the stuffed capsicums didn’t turn out a few weeks ago (lots more work needed in creating a proper zafrig (roux), this week I tried stuffing another vegetable.

Just like in Australia, where it’s known as an eggplant and everywhere else (western English-speaking countries) as an aubergine – in Dalmatia, our purple hero vegetable is known as a balancan, and the rest of Croatia – a patlidžan. If you’ve ever traveled through Dalmatia and not experienced women calling out to each other from their balconies asking for a spare balancan, it’s a treat!

This recipe is unlike other European or Middle Eastern stuffed eggplant because they cut their vegetable in half, scoop out the centre and fill it, not so in Dubrovnik.

Those ‘Dubrovniks’ cut off the top and scoop out the centre of the whole eggplant. You need a knife, spoon and (preferably) lots of time. But! Never fear, for all the time you put in you’ll be rewarded with melt-in-your-mouth eggplant coating a hearty parmesan, beef mince and prosciutto filling, all baked in a rich tomato garlic sauce.

Actually it’s so delicious that I want to make it over and over again until it becomes my signature dish. I have to admit now that artichokes are in season and about a dollar each, Artichokes Dalmatian-style has become my signature dish. I make them once a week and really look forward to artichoke night (and friends are in awe that anyone knows what to do with an artichoke, other than eat it marinated from a jar).

One thing about stuffed eggplant is that it’s not the most visually appealing recipe. That is possibly the caveat for all my cooking! The eggplant all shrivels up and if you think you’ll be breaking the internet with stuffed eggplant photos, guess again. But, it tastes like the Mediterranean (or Adriatic) in one dish.

Ingredients:

  • Four (4) small eggplants (aubergines) or three medium
  • Four (4) tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs
  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 100 grams beef mince
  • One (1) egg
  • 50 grams grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 100 grams prosciutto, finely diced
  • 500 mls Dalmatian tomato sauce
  • One bunch of basil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

For the Dalmatian tomato sauce:

  • 400 grams ripe tomatoes
  • Three minced garlic cloves
  • 50ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • One (1) tablespoon sugar

Method:

  1. For the sauce. Bring a saucepan of salted water to boil. Score the base of the tomatoes (x shape) and boil for five minutes. Drain, peel off the skin and discard. Cut the tomatoes into one centimetre cubes.
  2. In the same saucepan cook the garlic and olive oil for 30 seconds, so that it doesn’t colour. Add the tomato, season with salt and pepper and similar on the lowest heat for one hour. Adjust the seasoning if needed and add the sugar if you feel the tomatoes taste too acidic. (I made this the night before and let it cool to use the next day – up to you if you want to make it the day of, or day before)
  3. Cut the tops off the eggplant and set aside. Using a sharp small knife and spoon, hollow out the interior of the eggplant leaving one centimetre of flesh around the inside. Be careful not to pierce the skin.
  4. Season the insides with salt and turn them upside down to drain for at least 30 minutes. This helps to get rid of the bitterness.
  5. In a small pan, fry the breadcrumbs in olive oil until golden and set aside to cool.
  6. In a bowl, mix the beef mince, egg and cheese and season.
  7. Drizzle a little olive oil into each eggplant to grease the inside and start filling them by stating with the breadcrumbs, beef mixture, prosciutto and a tablespoon of sauce. Top it off with basil and keep filling the eggplants this way. You will probably get around three-four layers.
  8. When each is filled replace the tops and secure with toothpicks or skewers.
  9. Grease a large saucepan with olive oil (you really need to do this because a couple of my eggplants stuck to the bottom of the pan) Add the remaining tomato sauce and 400mls of water. Drizzle with olive oil and cook over low heat for about an hour.
  10. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Let me know if you try this recipe and what you thought

Dobar Tek! Zivjeli! (Bon Appetit! Cheers and let’s live!)

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