Aubergine Stuffed with Beef & Fresh Herbs

EpicureanPiranha | January 9th, 2011 - 23:53

I haven’t been publishing very often lately, but trust me, I have by no means stopped creating recipes or cooking [sacrilege]!  No, I’ve just been very busy with, among other things, moving house and Christmas ! Although I haven’t had much time to write up my recipes or process my photos in the past few months, as of now I’ll be publishing much more regularly, so do come back and check for new recipes often    

Italian baked aubergine - some of the ingredients

Deep purple aubergine, ripe tomatoes, fresh green basil, parsley and chilies, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fennel seeds.

When people tell me they don’t really like aubergines, I’ve often discovered it has to do with a bad dining experience in a restaurant. Sadly, when this beautiful vegetable is mistreated ~ overcooked, under seasoned, and/or drowned in oil ~ it becomes a bland, oily mush. What a shame ~ because when cooked properly, it develops a delicious, complex flavour and retains a medium-soft texture (but thankfully, most restaurateurs now treat this gorgeous vegetable with the respect it deserves!) 

Italian baked aubergine a F

Served with crusty bread and a green vegetable or crisp salad, this versatile dish makes a perfect al-fresco lunch.

A surprising fact you may not be aware of is that the aubergine is actually a fruit, and is botanically classified as a berry. It is known by many different names depending on where you live: eggplant, aubergine, melongene, brinjal, or guinea squash. Some well-known aubergine dishes you may have tasted include Italian Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Turkish Mousakka, Middle-Eastern Baba Ghanoush, French Ratatouille, and a wide variety of Indian curries. In fact, aubergines come in a variety of lovely shapes, sizes and colours, are delicious, and their versatility in cooking is well known in most parts of the world, from its native India through all of Asia including Japan, the Middle-East, Italy, and North America. 

This recipe was inspired by my love of Mediterranean cuisine. The beef filling is packed with the flavours of fresh basil and flat-leaf parsley, fennel, fresh Parmegiano Reggiano, a little garlic and tomato. A versatile dish, it can be prepared entirely ahead of time, and can either be served simply (as shown above), with chunky slices of bread to mop up the tasty juices, or as part of a more substantial or elaborate meal, as starter or main course  (as shown below) followed or preceded by something lighter such as grilled fish or seafood, or veal scallopini. You’ll want to accompany this dish with a red wine, such as an Italian Barbaresco, or even a spicy red such as a South African Shiraz. 

Italian baked aubergine b

You can also serve this dish as part of a more elaborate meal, either preceded or followed by a lighter course such as grilled fish or seafood, or veal scaloppini.

Aubergines & Filling

Metric  US  Ingredient  Prep. 
190 ml  3/4 cup  Jasmine rice  Cook the rice to yield about 375 ml [1.5 cups] – do not overcook! 
60 ml  4 Tbs  Olive oil*  *I prefer using extra virgin olive oil [EVOO] 
15 ml  1 Tbs  Fennel seeds  Lightly crushed in mortar and pestle or using a rolling pin 
Small onion  Finely chopped 
Large hot green chilli  Finely chopped 
Large garlic cloves  Thinly sliced 
Small [5-6 inch] aubergines  Using a knife, halve the aubergine lengthwise; carefully cut around the edge, leaving a 65 mm [¼ in] shell; slice flesh in a grid pattern and remove small cubes – reserve. 
15 ml  1 Tbs  Olive oil*    
500 g  1 lb  Lean minced [ground] beef    
125 ml  ½ cup  Dry red wine  Preferably Italian 
796 ml  28 oz  Tin [can] of chopped tomatoes  Use any good quality brand, or when in season, the equivalent volume of fresh, ripe, skinned & chopped tomatoes; separate into 1/3 [one third] and 2/3 [two third] portions. 
15 ml  1 Tbs  Tomato paste  Use any good quality brand 
250 ml  1 cup  Sweet loosely packed basil leaves  Only the leaves, left whole or torn if very large. 
250 ml  1 cup  Loosely packed flat leaf parsley  Only the leaves, roughly chopped. 
250 ml  1 cup  Parmigiano Reggiano  Freshly grated using a med-fine grater. 
  1. Wash the rice 3 times in cold water, then cook in salted water while you start preparing the other ingredients.
  2. Prep everything as shown, and using about 30 ml [2 Tbs] EVOO, oil an ovenproof dish large enough to hold the stuffed aubergine halves snugly.
  3. Add 30 ml [2 Tbs] EVOO to a large heavy-gauge skillet and over med-low heat, gently sauté fennel seed, onion, and chilli.
  4. Once onion is transparent, raise heat to med-high, wait 30 seconds then add reserved aubergine cubes; sauté until golden.
  5. Season with freshly grated pepper and sea salt; remove from skillet and reserve.
  6. Add 15 ml [1 Tbs] EVOO to skillet over high heat. When hot, add the minced beef. Sauté until beginning to brown breaking up the meat as you go, then add garlic and cook a few minutes more.
  7. Now add the glass of wine, approximately 1/3 of the chopped tomatoes and juice, and the tomato paste to the meat. Add about 80 ml [1/3 cup] water, stir well and season generously with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. As soon as it starts bubbling, lower heat to medium and cook 10 – 15 minutes to reduce sauce.
  8. Italian baked aubergine - preparing the filling I v2

    Sautéing the beef with herbs and other ingredients.

  9. Now add the basil leaves, the reserved cooked aubergine mixture, and the cooked rice. Stir gently to mix.
  10. Italian baked aubergine - preparing the filling II

    Add the previously sautéed aubergine mixture and the rice to the sautéed beef mixture.

  11. Add the chopped parsley and half the Parmesan. Stir gently to mix and taste to correct seasoning.
  12. Sprinkle aubergine halves with a little freshly ground pepper and sea salt, then loosely stuff the shells making a mound, and arrange side by side in the prepared baking dish.

    Italian baked aubergine - preparing to bake

    Sprinkle freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the stuffed aubergine before baking.

  13. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan over the filled shells, and bake in a preheated [350F] oven on the bottom third of the oven for about 40 – 45 minutes.

Serve with the tomato basil sauce.

Tomato Basil Sauce

Tomato Basil Sauce – additional ingredients
Metric US Ingredient Prep.
60 ml 4 Tbs Olive oil*  
5 ml 1 tsp Fennel seeds Leave whole
1 1 Small onion Finely chopped
2 2 Large garlic cloves Thinly sliced
10 ml 2 tsp Tomato paste  
125 ml 1/2 cup Sweet loosely packed basil leaves Only the leaves, left whole or torn if very large.

Prepare while dish is baking or ahead of time and refrigerate in a covered recipient, then warm gently to serve.
1. In a med-small heavy-gauge saucepan, over low heat, sweat fennel seed and onion in the olive oil.
2. Once the onion is transparent, add the garlic and cook another minute while stirring, taking care not to burn it!
3. Add remaining 2/3 of chopped tomatoes and their juice, the 10 ml [2 tsp] tomato paste, and about 80 ml [1/3 cup] water [or wine if you prefer!] to the onion mixture; raise heat and bring to the boil while stirring gently. As soon as it bubbles, reduce heat to low.
4. Add 2.5 ml [1/2 tsp] sea salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 to 60 minutes, adding a little water [or wine] if the sauce gets really thick.
5. Add the basil leaves and stir. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve with the cooked aubergine.

Fresh Basil Tomato Sauce

Adding fresh basil to the tomatoe sauce that has finished cooking.

Notes

  • You can prepare the dish ahead of time; cover well with cling film, and refrigerate up to 24 hrs before cooking. Then before baking, remove the dish from the fridge 15 minutes before placing in the preheated oven, and bake 10-15 minutes longer than the time specified.
  • If preparing the Tomato Basil Sauce ahead of time, only add the fresh basil to the sauce at the last minute after you’ve re-heated it.
  • This is nice served with crusty bread and green vegetables such as green beans sautéed in a little EVOO and garlic, or a salad of rocket and parmesan shavings.
  • Depending on your taste, to accompany this dish try a soft Italian red such as a good Valpolicella, or a spicy South African Shiraz.
  • Make sure to keep some fresh basil leaves to decorate the plate!
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