Fortunately, my father-in-law is an Italian-American from Yonkers, New York who enjoys sharing everything he knows with anyone who will listen. In the kitchen, the one thing he knows really well is how to make a great meatball. Thanks to him, I now understand what has been missing from mine. In my search, I have read tons of recipes and they all lack this key ingredient, as evidenced by the commenters complaining on lack of flavor. That ingredient is...ketchup. Not tomato sauce, not tomato paste. Ketchup. Surprised? Me too. What Italian uses ketchup? But it works.
This recipe is an adaptation of my father-in-law's version, which calls for ground beef. I tend to make mine with lean ground turkey, especially in the warmer months when I want something lighter on the stomach. But some days I just want to be completely meat free, and this dish is a good stand-in.
Included in the ingredient list are substitutions to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and those with gluten intolerance. The most labor intensive part of this dish is grating the eggplant, but well worth the effort to achieve a meatball-like texture that holds together.
Buon appetito! And as my grandmother would say, "mangia, mangia before it gets cold!"
1 medium eggplant, peeled and shredded
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup regular or vegan Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup regular or gluten-free seasoned breadcrumbs, plus 3/4 cup reserved
1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water or 1 tablespoon ground flax seed + 2-3 tablespoons water
extra virgin olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded skim-milk or vegan mozzarella
Shred half the eggplant with a cheese grater and place in a metal sieve perched over a bowl to catch any liquid. Sprinkle generously with salt and repeat the process with the remaining eggplant. Let stand for 15 minutes. Rinse well with water, lightly drain and transfer to a sauté pan. Cook over medium-high heat until softened. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
Stir in the oregano, parsley, garlic, ketchup, cheese and crumbs. Scoop out a small spoonful of the mixture and form into a ball. If it does not hold its shape, add breadcrumbs a little at a time to form a stiffer mix. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pour the reserved breadcrumbs onto a plate. In a separate dish whisk the egg, or the flaxseed if using, with the water. Scoop out a small spoonful of the eggplant mixture and form into a ball. Coat with the egg or flaxseed dip, then the breadcrumbs. Place into a greased mini muffin pan and repeat until all of the mixture is gone.
Bake for 30 minutes, gently flipping the eggplant balls about halfway through the cook time with a metal spoon.
Meanwhile, coat the bottom of two mini casserole baking dishes with tomato sauce. Remove cooked eggplant balls from oven and transfer six to each dish. Top with remaining sauce and cheese. Place under a broiler for 4-5 minutes, or until cheese begins to bubble.
Yield: 1 dozen mini eggplant balls