The Greek mantra of ‘eat eat eat’ holds true in Amorgos, where we were treated to these delicious stuffed aubergines (eggplants) known as papoutsakia. In Greek, the name means ‘little slippers’, very much like ciabatta, which, in Italian, also means slipper. These eggplants are reminders of the same shoe shape, but definitely taste better than what they are named after!
- 6 large eggplants (aubergines)
- salt, to sprinkle
- 125 ml (½ cup) vegetable oil
- ⅔ cup grated Parmesan
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 500 g minced beef
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 350 g (about 3 big) tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 125 ml (½ cup) red wine
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp white (granulated) sugar
- salt and pepper, to season
- 40 g butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 425 ml room-temperature milk
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to season
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise and cut off a little piece of skin on the curved sides so they lie flat. Sprinkle over a generous amount of salt and place in a colander to sweat.
Meanwhile, to make the stuffing, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3–4 minutes or until soft. Increase heat to high, add the minced beef and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes or until almost cooked through. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Gradually add the red wine, then simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Add the cinnamon and sugar, season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.
When the stuffing is ready, take the eggplants and squeeze out any excess water (you can even dry them further with a clean tea towel). Take a small sharp knife and slash the inner sides with a crisscross pattern until it resembles the skin of a pineapple. This will allow them to cook well inside and absorb all the flavour of the filling.
Heat the vegetable oil (which is better than olive oil here as olive oil would make the eggplants too heavy and the heat would destroy its beneficial components) over medium heat in a large deep saucepan. Place the eggplants crisscross-side down in the oil and cook for 4–5 minutes or until browned on one side. Turn over and cook for a further 4–5 minutes or until soft and almost cooked through (don’t let the oil get too hot or they will burn). Transfer eggplant to a baking tray, crisscross-side up, and use a spoon to scrape and soften the interior. Sprinkle with salt. It is now ready to be filled with stuffing.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until it resembles a paste. Reduce heat to low. Using a whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until a cream-like consistency, then continue to whisk until thickened. If you are used to making béchamel, you will see that this is a bit thicker than your usual sauce as you want to pipe it on top of the eggplants. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 250ºC. Most of the components are cooked already, so this is mainly to integrate the flavours and brown. Spoon the meat stuffing into the eggplants, then pipe or spoon the béchamel on top. If you want it to look fancier, you can pipe decorative shapes on top, but otherwise a big dollop will work. Scatter the Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top, season with more pepper if you like and put it in the oven to cook for 15 minutes or until golden brown. The little slippers are ready!
Recipe from The Funnelogy Channel by Gabriella Zanzanaini and Nicolas Petit, with photographs by Nicolas Petit.