Melanzane fritte in pastella are slices of eggplant/aubergine dipped in batter and then deep fried until crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. With some basil and tomato dipping sauce this is a lovely appetizer, that could also be served as hors d’oeuvres with cocktails.
There are a few important techniques to end up with eggplant bites that are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside:
- The eggplant slices should be salted an hour before, so the salt can draw out the juices and change the texture.
- The batter should be made with (cheap) vodka or sparkling water to get a lot of tiny bubbles from the stronger evaporation of alcohol compared to water (look at the close up photo to notice the bubbles). I used a mixture of half water and half 95% proof alcohol, as I didn’t have vodka in the house. The alcohol will burn off completely, so there won’t be any alcohol left when you eat the eggplant. It also helps to use flour with a low gluten content, such as cake flour.
- The oil temperature should be maintained at 180C/350F by using a relatively large amount of oil and/or a strong heat source, to prevent the oil temperature from dropping too much when you add the eggplant.
For 4-8 servings as an appetizer
75 grams (1/2 cup) cake flour + more flour for dusting
120 ml (1/2 cup) vodka
plenty of oil for deep frying (at least 2 litres/quarts)
1 Tbsp olive oil
200 grams (1/2 can of 400 grams/14 oz) canned peeled tomatoes, pureed in the food processor
1 clove garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the eggplant into slices of about 1 cm or 1/2 inch thickness.
Place the slices on kitchen paper in a single layer, and season liberally with salt on both sides. Allow the eggplant slices to rest for an hour.
In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and add a thickly sliced garlic clove. Tilt the pan and fry the garlic in the oil until it is golden, then discard the garlic. This will infuse the oil with garlic flavor, but you will not be eating the actual garlic.
Add half of a can of peeled tomatoes, pureed in the food processor, and bring to a boil. When it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Simmer the tomato sauce over low heat until it is no longer watery, about 20 minutes. You can see in the photo that when you draw a line on the bottom of the pan with a spatula, the sauce is not leaking water. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Do not make the batter long before you are going to use it, as you don’t want the gluten to develop (because gluten will make the crust tough). Beat the egg with 120 ml vodka until mixed.
Add 75 grams flour in parts…
…and stir until there are no more lumps. The batter should have the thickness of pancake batter. If it is too thick, add one or two teaspoons of water.
Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel. (There is no need to rinse the eggplant, unless you used too much salt.)
Cut the eggplant slices into quarters.
Toss the eggplant with flour.
Dip an eggplant piece in batter, shake off any excess batter, and then lower it gently into the hot oil of 180C/350F. Repeat with the other pieces.
Make sure the oil is 180C/350F before adding the eggplant and try to maintain the temperature by not adding too much at once. Turn the eggplant pieces as needed until they are golden on both sides.
Lift any eggplant pieces out of the oil as soon as they are golden on both sides. This will take about 4-5 minutes.
Allow the eggplant pieces to drain on kitchen paper, removing any excess oil from the top by patting with kitchen paper as well.
Serve the fried eggplant pieces with the tomato sauce as dipping sauce, with a basil leaf for each piece of eggplant. (If the basil leaves are large, tear them in halves or quarters.) Do not place the basil on top of the eggplant as that will make the basil wilt, but instruct your guests to take a basil leaf with each piece.
Fried foods are good with sparkling wine. Because of the tomato sauce, this is nice with a rosé sparkling wine, especially one with some fruity notes like a Nebbiolo Spumante from Piemonte or a Bairrada Espumante from Portugal.
Paccheri with monkfish ragù is a simple yet delicious pasta dish.