Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eggplant burgers - polpette di melanzane

It is hard to think of little else here besides the cruise ship that ran aground off of the coast of Isola del Giglio in Tuscany last Friday night. It is all over the news, on every paper, every TV channel, day in and day out. Why is it that we feel this need to become voyeurs of other people’s tragedies? Nowadays media coverage is so extreme, with its real time updates of every minor happening, that it is impossible not to be sucked in. A journalist of a regional paper is tweeting regularly and we are being flooded by photos and videos of the evacuation and the rescue operations by the coast guard, divers and now the marines.

Naturally, we are distressed about the fatalities, worried about the unaccounted passengers (where are they? what happened to them?) and shocked, to say the least, about the dubious behavior of the captain, allegedly (more like definitely - while I was writing the infuriating call between the harbour office and the culprit was broadcast) more concerned about saving his life than his passengers after deviating from the ship’s standard course. There is controversy about his authority to make this kind of decision and the fact that the ever-growing size of cruise ships for profit affects onboard safety. Last but not least, we are once again concerned about another ecological marine disaster, about 500,000 gallons of fuel spilling into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

But let’s face it, we are all victims of reality TV nowadays. How many of us here have not been sucked into the frenzy of watching every detail of these peoples’ nightmare? Who hasn’t clicked onto the blue-tinged photos of the eerie underwater world of luxurious salons and lopsided corridors, where walls have become floors and ceilings walls? Who can suppress a shudder while watching the infra-red images of thousands of people climbing down the side of the ship with rope ladders like ants in a line, such is the size of the capsized monster. Or when listening to the screams in the dark filmed by a helicopter and the victims with their cell phones?

The truth is that, whilst we are all incensed and truly preoccupied, we cannot resist the lure of the Titanic-like imagery, as the NY Times rightly defined it. We are mesmerized because that horrible night of a century ago has taken on a legendary status in our minds. Which one of us has not at one time or another imagined what it would have been like to be on the Titanic as it sank to the bottom of the sea? The ice cold deep water, the dark night, the sound of clanking metal and waves? I can’t help but wonder if some of those missing people are still blocked in their cabin or in one of the many other rooms of the ship. I can’t help imagining what it would be like to be alone on a dark, half submerged ship, I cannot resist directing and acting in an imaginary movie of which I am the sole spectator. The waiting, my calls for help echoing in the empty halls, the fear, the desperation, the cold. Hearing distant sounds and searching for other survivors…
What attracts us is that human trait, mostly compassionate but at times a little twisted, of identifying ourselves in others.
This was supposed to be a post about the sea, the sun, the island of Sicily and a traditional recipe. It turned into a post about the sea, an island and a tragedy.

Once again, we are the lucky ones, enjoying a meal with our family on a Saturday afternoon. My prayers and thoughts go those who were not so lucky on that day.

I made this vegetarian lunch because F and I were going out that evening with friends to a Brazilian restaurant and I knew I would be having enough meat to last me a week. It isn’t really the season for eggplant on this side of the world, but I couldn’t resist the huge offer in my local supermarket the other day since I recently came across a recipe I had bookmarked from Manu’s Menu a while back. It is the season for this vegetable in the other half of the world so I thought there surely would be someone out there who would enjoy this dish as much as we did.

Ingredients (makes about 9)
1 medium or 2 small eggplants/aubergines
1/2 egg, beaten
about 1 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1/2 tbsp basil, chopped
1/2 tbsp mint, chopped
1 small clove garlic, chopped or pressed
salt to taste
pepper to taste
a little flour for coating
vegetable oil for frying

Clean and chop the eggplant into large chunks (do not peel). Boil in salted water until tender and drain for at least an hour to get rid of excess water. Chop into smaller pieces and mash with a fork in a bowl. Add in the breadcrumbs (adjust amount afterwards according to how wet the eggplant is), the garlic, the grated Parmesan, the herbs (I only used parsley as that is all I had but I am sure the basil and especially the mint would work miracles), the egg and salt and pepper to taste. Mix it all together well. The mixture should be dense enough to form patties. Start heating some vegetable oil in a large pan. When you have formed the patties, coat lightly in flour and fry them in the hot oil until golden brown. I served mine with a simple tomato and basil sauce for dipping and mashed potatoes as a main course, but they make a delicious vegetarian burger if you make them a bit bigger or perfect finger food too.


  1. I love eggplants patties! I made the recipe myself sometime ago and really enjoyed it. Waiting for eggplants to reappear over here!

  2. Awesome recipe..A must try one


  3. Yes, indeed, the world is a mess. That's why I'm grateful for good food—it's a real solace.

  4. These look amazing. And impressive.
    When we lived in Rome I chose not to get cable of any kind so the TV remained OFF for two whole years. Now here in NY I also decided no TV- so to be honest I am immune from seeing the footage (just haven't seen any on the computer either) but we've been reading, in utter shock about what has transpired. Enraging to say the least.

  5. Great rendition!!! :-))) They look mouthwatering! I haven't made them in a while... and it is summer here, so time to get myself some eggplants! And I love the idea of a tomato sauce and basil dipping sauce!

    I am following what happened to the cruise ship through the web. Scary! I am also somewhat claustrophobic, so just the thought of what it could be like in there makes me shiver. :-(((((((((((

  6. Yes, the whole Costa disaster has been on the news here nonstop as well, and the conversation between the Captain and the harbor office was horrifying! While we sit in the warmth and safety of our home eating cauliflower gratin. I love your yummy looking eggplant polpette...I don't prepare vegetarian dishes like this often enough.

  7. This is a traditional recipe from my home town/region and my "mamma" can obviously (eyes rolling here) cook wonderful polpette di melanzane.
    One thing that comes to my mind is that, before cooking them, she has this habit of arranging the chopped eggplants into several layers inside a colander along with salt. Then she applies a pressure (a pot filled with water would do fine) for a considerable amount of time (1-2h).
    This process has the purpose of taking away that bitter aftertaste that eggplants, at least some qualities, have.

    As usual, you made me willing to try this at home :)

  8. Wow, this sounds delicious. Better still is the fact that this is something we don't see every day. I really like your recipe. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  9. Would love to try this! The Italian cruise ship tragedy, is immense and so unbelievable. Who would have thought that the Titanic could happen one century later. Shudder. I am claustrophobic and this drama reminded me I don't want ever to be on a cruise ship/

  10. The cruise ship disaster was a complete tragedy but I agree, there's too much voyeuristic scrutinisation of every last detail. As one of the comments above says, lucky we can find solace in food. Your aubergine burgers look lovely - simple, fresh and delicious.

  11. Pola - yeah, unfortunately nowadays we sometimes lose track of what is in season in our overflowing supermarkets
    Frank - I couldn't agree more
    Nicole - living with out generalist TV is not bad, especially here in Italy as you know. We only really watch Sky at this point. You can easily keep up with the news anyway: the first news I got about the cruise ship was on Twitter!
    Manu - I am glad a gave you a new idea on how to serve your great recipe.
    Jamie - that phone call is infuriating. Re vegetarian dishes, I never realize they are until after I make them. I usually choose them just because they appeal to me. Whenever I have to cook vegetarian for friends my mind goes blank. Silly, huh?
    Carmelo - ciao!! My mother in law does the same and I as a consequence. This time I didn't because the eggplant was of the smaller, long, lighter variety which usually isn't as bitter. But please keep mamma's tips coming, they are always useful!
    Mary - glad you enjoyed it Mary. Same to you
    ToB - I think that they are very safe in general, but making them bigger and bigger not only pollutes our waters more but also makes rescue operations more difficult in my view.
    Little Loaf - they would fit perfectly with your burger buns ;o)

  12. It's very fitting that you're writing about the cruise ship disaster as it is playing in the background as I type. It is a really tragic loss (and that captain-don't get me started!). Meanwhile this eggplant burger looks divine-Manu has such a delicious blog too! :D

  13. Eggplants fritters are happiness food for me. I wish I could get decent eggplants here, but even in summer they are barely edible. I binge on them when I go to Italy.

    I agree with you, I could not stop myself looking at all those images of the shipwreck, mainly because of the Titanic effect. It surely is a huge tragedy, but the media are really going on and on about it..


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