So dig this. A couple of weeks ago my father in-law, George, popped by with a dish of some "meatballs" that were the product of his latest kitchen experiment. Still slightly warm from the oven and fragrant as all get out, we couldn't wait to try his new goodies. I popped one in my mouth and thought immediately that it was a tender veal meatball that had been braised in a rich tomato sauce. Was I right?
A wide grin on his face, George proudly proclaimed that these were eggplant meatballs, just like ones he had enjoyed in Italy years ago and had recently set his mind to re-creating in his home kitchen. Well, I didn't have the benefit of having tasted the ones in Italy, but by any measure these were delectable little morsels and I couldn't wait to learn how he had made them. As if my enthusiasm for the buggers weren't enough, when Peyton, our resident pescatarian tried one (or was it six?) she declared them SO much better than the store bought (soy based) meatless balls we had bought her that she begged me to make some more of these tout de suite!
Sadly, while George is a fearlessly creative cook, his recipe documentation skills are in need of some work and even after a half hour of Bond-like interrogation, all we had gleaned from the poor fella was a rough ingredient list. If we wanted to make our own eggplant "meat"balls a little more research would be required.
Luckily, my wife is a research maven and was quickly able to put her hands on a recipe that approximated what George had described to us. With that as a starting point, she made a few modifications to both the ingredient list and the method, and ultimately came up with these seriously tasty orbs.
They are shown here masquerading as veal meatballs in a simple tomato sauce, but are so flavorful on their own that they will shine in almost any recipe. We've eaten them plain on a plate next to some taters and a salad, sliced into sandwiches and burritos, and diced and tossed into omelets. I think the next time I make a batch I'll try a Swedish Meatball version and when I do I'll be making at least a double batch so that I have plenty leftover to freeze for future use.
All of our kids, even those who routinely sneer at the thought of meatless eating, were quickly won over by the taste and texture of these treats. Make these for even the most discriminating meat snob you know, and I guaranty that they'll be won over too.
Cheers – Steve
- 1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1/4 - 1/2 inch dice
- 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and blitzed in a food processor and ground to a meal resembling wet sand
- 3 tablespoons EVOO, or more as needed
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, beaten (preferably organic)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
- vegetable oil spray
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 375℉ and lightly oil a baking sheet with the spray oil.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and when hot add the EVOO and diced onion. Saute, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and season with some salt and pepper. Cook until the eggplant starts to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the eggplant and onions to a food processor, add pulse to achieve a rough paste. Don't overdo this step, you want the eggplant to have some texture and not be totally smooth. Pour the mix out into a mixing bowl.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the eggplant and mix well. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Rub a little oil on your hands or wet them, then roll about 2 tablespoon worth of the mix in the palm of your hand to form a golf ball sized ball.
- Place on the oiled sheet and repeat the process until all the mix has been used, you should have around 40 balls when you're done. Pop the sheet into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, pull the tray from the oven and turn the balls over. Place the sheet tray back into the oven and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the balls are a deep, golden brown and have a nice crust. be careful not to over bake them or they will become too dry.