All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2013
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OK, admittedly, this one has a few steps but none are difficult & this dish is incredibly delicious. In the interest of full disclosure – I must confess where my inspiration for this dish came from. It came from a recipe in the Dallas News – that was accompanied by this picture below:
I thought that was so pretty that I had to try it. Their recipe used frozen meatballs & jarred vodka & pesto sauces. I made the sauce from scratch. They used fancy skewers that had black balls decorating the tops. I used black olives – as they seemed to go very well with my eggplant polpette and I had no fancy skewers handy. They also used angel hair pasta while I used whole wheat spaghetti. In retrospect – angel hair is probably easier to wrap around skewers but I don’t imagine most of you will be attempting this presentation. You should just go for this one:
So – while you need to make the sauce (easy) and the eggplant mash (easy) and the ricotta stuffing (easy) – I am guessing you will find it all worthwhile – especially as this recipe makes about a dozen “meatballs” that were all nearly the size of a pool ball. That would feed 4 easily – maybe even 6 – if you made more than a pound of pasta. I opted to fry my polpette but they can also be baked (for 30 minutes or so at 350 – or until they are brown & just begin to turn crusty) if you are worried about calories (as I should be).
Spaghetti and Ricotta-Stuffed Roasted Eggplant Polpette (Meatballs) with Spicy Tomato Vodka Sauce
For the sauce
1 (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce)
1 TBS olive oil
1 small onion – diced
4 cloves garlic – chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or to taste)
1/2 cup vodka
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
S&P to taste
For the eggplant polpette
2 small eggplants
4 cloves garlic – chopped
1/2 cup parsley – chopped
1/3 cup basil – chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups (or so) breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for frying (or bake them at 350 for about 25 minutes)
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 TBS parsley – chopped
S&P to taste
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti (or other pasta)
If making skewers – you need skewers & a few pitted black olives
Fresh basil and/or parsley – chopped – as garnish
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the eggplants & roast them, cut side down, for about 20-25 minutes or until they soften & begin to wrinkle. Remove from the oven & allow to cool a bit.
For the sauce – heat the olive oil in a stock pot. Cook the onions & crushed red pepper until the onions soften. Add the garlic & saute about a minute.
Add the vodka and cook for a minute or two to cook off the alcohol a bit. Add the canned tomatoes & the parsley.
Simmer for about fifteen minutes. At this point – I used an immersion blender & smoothed the sauce a lot. You can do this, too, or do it in a blender or even leave the sauce with more texture. Stir in the heavy cream & allow to simmer on very low heat.
In a bowl, mix the ingredients for the ricotta filling.
In a food processor or blender, blend everything for the polpette except the eggplant and breadcrumbs. When the other ingredients are chopped finely, scoop out the eggplant flesh & add it to the food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl & add as much of the breadcrumbs (maybe less – maybe more) as you need to get a consistency that can be made into balls.
To make the stuffed polpette, put the bowls of eggplant & stuffing near each other by the sink. Wet your hands and scoop out some eggplant
Create a little nest indentation & add some filling. Top with more eggplant & create a little “meatball.”
Mine started like golf balls but ended up more like pool balls. Do this until the eggplant is gone. I ended up with extra filling left over. You may or may not – depending on how much you fill your polpette. Try to patch any spots you see with filler peeking out with more eggplant. If the filling seeps out while you fry them – they just get a little harder to manage in the oil & you risk them sticking to the pan or falling apart.
Bake them at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until golden & beginning to crisp. OR – heat about 1/2 inch of oil & shallow fry them until they are golden brown or darker – all over. Scoop out with a slotted spoon & drain on a paper towel. If you like, you can put them in a warm (200 degrees) oven to keep them hot.
Cook the pasta according to directions.
You can warm the polpette more by dropping them into the hot vodka sauce a few minutes before serving.
Serve pasta topped with sauce & a few polpette & garnish with chopped fresh basil and/or parsley.
Or – if you are feeling ambitious, wrap a few strands of pasta around a few skewers & stand the skewer up in a “meatball.” Place that skewered meatball on a little pool of sauce. Cap your spaghetti & skewer tip with pitted black olives & garnish with basil & parsley. Brag at the water cooler tomorrow!