Bette Arnold Henderson of Bradenton, Fla., was in search of a recipe for baked stuffed eggplant like the one she and her husband used to enjoy some years ago when they lived in Santa Barbara, Calif. It was served at Mariann's Italian Villa, and they liked the dish so much it came to be the only thing they would order from the restaurant's extensive menu.
The restaurant is no longer in business and Henderson has tried to duplicate the dish without any success, so she was hoping a reader would have a recipe for a meatless Italian stuffed eggplant that they could share.
Marco Masteloni of Hartford, Conn., sent in a recipe for stuffed eggplant that he said his Italian grandmother gave him some years ago. It's a long-standing favorite of his and makes for a terrific meatless meal option. He thought that Henderson might want to give it a try. The Italian herbs, tomatoes and earthy cremini mushrooms meld beautiful with the sauteed eggplant, and the pecorino cheese gives the dish just the right little kick. Take care to not over salt the filling, as the pecorino cheese can tend to be a bit on the salty side.
This is a very satisfying and hearty vegetarian dish. Serve this with a nice green salad and I bet no one will be missing the meat that night.
Ellen Rogers of Granger, Ind., said that in the 1960s her mother made a dish with orange Jello, shredded carrots and small pineapple bits. She cannot locate the recipe and has been unable to recreate the same taste. Rogers was hoping a reader would recognize this and be able to share the recipe.
Italian stuffed eggplant
Makes 4 servings
2 large eggplants
3 tablespoons olive oil, for brushing
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
3 or 4 shallots, finely diced
1/2 pound (250 grams) cremini mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pecorino cheese, diced (plus more grated for topping)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and cut out the flesh, leaving about 1/4 inch inside the shell. Dice what you removed and set aside.
Salt the inside of the eggplant shells well, then put them cut side down on a plate and let sit for about 30 minutes. Then wipe them dry with a paper towel.
Brush the eggplant shells inside and out with some olive oil, and place them cut side down in a casserole dish.
Pour 1/4 cup of water in the dish, then cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
While the shells are baking, heat the butter in a skillet above medium-low heat and add the shallots. Cook until softened, about four minutes.
Add the mushrooms and saute until they have given up most of their juices, then increase the heat to high and add the wine and parsley.
When about half of the liquid has evaporated, stir in the diced eggplant and cook on high heat for about three more minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes and Italian seasoning, and season well with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about five minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the eggplant shells are is done, remove them from the oven and increase the heat to 425 degrees.
Stir the pecorino cheese into the mushroom mixture, then stuff each eggplant shell and bake in the top third of the oven for 10 minutes.
Turn the broiler on high, sprinkle the eggplants with the reserved grated pecorino and broil for about two minutes, until browned.