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Eggplant stuffed with ricotta and ham

(Beatrice Peltre for The Boston Globe)
August 19, 2009

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Serves 4

With their delicate, tender flesh and thinner, more elongated shape, Italian eggplant - they’re dark purple, like regular eggplant - are great to stuff. Select vegetables that are firm to the touch and have no wrinkles. Halve the eggplant, brush them with oil, and bake them until they’re soft enough to scoop out the flesh. For the stuffing, saute a shallot with garlic and ground coriander, and add fresh tomatoes and the flesh of the eggplant. Stir in ricotta, fresh herbs, ham, and pecorino cheese. Stuffed eggplant can be made in advance and reheated just before serving. For the days when you’d rather be outside than in.

2 medium Italian eggplant
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 slices ( 1/4 pound) ham, finely diced
1 egg
1/4 cup water
Extra fresh cilantro, chopped (for sprinkling)
1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Have on hand a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Halve the eggplant lengthwise. Place them in the baking dish, cut sides up. Sprinkle generously with oil and salt. Bake for 20 minutes. Leave to cool.

3. With a teaspoon, scoop out the eggplant flesh. Chop it coarsely; transfer to a bowl.

4. In a skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. When it is hot, add the shallot, coriander, and thyme. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes.

5. Stir in the eggplant flesh. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until the mixture is pulpy and well flavored. Discard the bay leaf and thyme. Leave to cool slightly.

6. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

7. Stir the ricotta, pecorino, cilantro, ham, egg, salt, and pepper into the eggplant mixture. Fill the eggplant shells with the stuffing.

8. Return the shells to the baking dish. Sprinkle with olive oil and add the water to the dish. Bake the eggplant for 45 minutes or until the shells are tender when pierced with a skewer. Beatrice Peltre