Recipe Trialling: Eggplant Recipes

By Lady Caterine de Vantier

As part of the latest round of recipe trialling in preparation for the Canterbury Faire feast, I tried out a number of different eggplant recipes. I like offering an eggplant dish at feasts when it's in season, as it tends to be a heartier dish that's also suitable for vegetarians. Of course, rather than always offering the same dish, it's nice to be able to choose from a selection of dishes. Here I tested four recipes: two for stuffed eggplant, and two for fried eggplant served with something sprinkled over.

Stuffed Eggplant from Castelvetro, p74

Castelvetro's recipe calls for the aubergine to be hollowed, then filled with the innards, as well as breadcrumbs, egg, grated cheese, herbs, butter or oil, and bitter orange juice, before grilling.

One thing of note is that unlike Scappi, Castelvetro does not call for the eggplant to be peeled; nor does he call for it to be cooked prior to stuffing. I therefore prepared it raw, cutting it in half lengthwise before carving out the central portion to leave approximately one centimetre all the way around the edge. Not having many kitchen workers under me, I pulped the scooped out eggplant in the blender. To make the recipe gluten free I omitted the breadcrumbs and substituted in rice flour instead. I started out by putting in only three tablespoonsful, but upped this to about five because the mixture was quite liquid. I only used one egg as I was only stuffing one eggplant. I probably could have gotten away with using half, given the consistency of the mixture overall - it rather resembled a thick batter. I added 1/3 of a cup of grated hard cheese. Possibly I could have added more cheese but I suspect that this would make the dish too rich. I just used a block tasty cheese and this worked well. Castelvetro doesn't mention whether a hard or soft cheese is normally used, but given that the mixture is fairly sloppy, the use of a hard cheese seems best. Herb-wise I added in oregano, sage, and mint - again using my blender to do the cutting work for me. Castelvetro calls for "sweet" herbs to be added, so I thought these would work well (they also show up a lot in Italian recipes), although I would have preferred marjoram to oregano as it is the sweeter of the two. I decided to use oil rather than butter, only adding a tablespoonful of olive oil as it didn't seem to need much; I also added two tablespoonsful of orange juice - this was just normal modern orange juice as that was what was available to me, possibly in place of this I could use lemon juice as it would add more bitterness, or a mixture of the two. I cooked it in the about midway in the oven at 180°C for 20-30 minutes. This left the eggplant outer nicely cooked and the stuffing a golden-brown.

My recipe testers all enjoyed this version, finding it quite palateable, but it left none of them absolutely raving. Visually it looked quite nice when it was served, as the stuffing had a nice orangeish colouring, and the fact that the outer eggplant was used to hold the stuffing made it a neatly "parcelled" dish - however, in terms of serving it is something that would then require someone to cut it into portions to serve, which could be an issue at a feast with limited serving staff.

Stuffed Eggplant from Scappi, III.230 p361

Scappi's recipe appealed to me as it used nuts, which adds an extra protein source for vegetarian attendees, calling for walnuts and almonds. In addition to these it uses herbs, grated bread, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and oil. He gives the option for non-lean days of adding in cheese and eggs as well.

To stuff it I used the cooked scooped flesh of the eggplant, along with five tablespoonsful each of hazelnuts and almonds, which I had ground in the blender. I used hazelnuts as I had forgotten that I'd run out of walnuts, however, the substitution was acceptable to me as other recipes such as stuffed cabbage or lettuce will often make use of hazelnuts. I used three tablespoonsful of rice flour, again substituting this for bread to make it gluten free. I chose fennel, oregano, sage, and mint to use as my herbs. For the spices I used roughly one teaspoon of cninamon, a pinch of cloves, and half a teaspoon of pepper. I used about a tablespoonful of oil. Again I used 1/3 of a cup of hard cheese as unusually Scappi does not specify what type of cheese should be used, and an egg, deciding that I was not cooking for a lean day. The overall mixture was relatively stiff - possibly the addition of another egg or more oil would have helped make it more liquid, but I also wasn't sure how liquid I wanted it to be since the finished consistency required isn't mentioned by Scappi. However, compared with Castelvetro's, this was a fairly solid mixture, more like a biscuit dough.

I followed his instructions to first peel and then boil the eggplant in water prior to stuffing. I then read the bit about standing the eggplant on end in a saucepan once stuffed, to cook it in broth. This struck me as a good way to make a mess quickly, so I opted for baking the eggplant instead. Scappi doesn't specify whether the baked version requires precooking, he only states that they don't need to be peeled first. Since mine was already peeled and cooked, I ran with that. This struck me as an advantage since Scappi's next instruction is to peel the eggplant once it has been baked - again, this seemed like a good way to make a mess quickly, and also to probably burn my fingers too. However, I have the intention of baking an eggplant again and trying to peel it afterwards just to check how easy it is.

This cooked under the same conditions as Castelvetro's recipe. It came out quite a lot darker. My tasters also enjoyed this version, with some preferring it over Castelvetro's. The most notable comments were that it was nuttier and spicier - again, while they enjoyed the dish, it didn't leave them raving.

Fried Eggplant Recipe from Scappi, III.231 p361

This recipe of Scappi's is to fry eggplant, and gives the option of several different sauces that it can be served with. The eggplants are sliced then boiled and drained. They then need to be floured before frying in olive oil. As Scappi doesn't specify what kind of flour to use, and in order to make them gluten free, I used rice flour to coat them with as this was a fairly normal ingredient in Renaissance cooking.

I served these in two different ways. The first was sprinkled with salt and pepper and orange juice. The second was a sauce of verjuice, basil, and garlic. As I had only fried one eggplant and was trying two toppings, I didn't need very much sauce. It only took a couple of cloves of garlic, along with 10-12 basil leaves and about four tablespoonsful of verjuice. I blended the ingredients together to make the sauce, which came out as a relatively thick paste.

These two recipes were the surprising hit. I had expected that one of the stuffed eggplant recipes would be preferred, but people really enjoyed these. My testers really enjoyed the crispiness that the rice flour coating added to the eggplant, and the contrast it provided with the soft cooked eggplant. Some didn't like the basil/garlic/verjuice sauce because the garlic, being raw, was very strong - since Scappi hadn't mentioned cooking it, I hadn't. I believe there's a strong correlation between those that didn't like this sauce and those that don't like Androu le Greyn's garlic sauce either. Everyone thought that serving both options was a winner, as it was nice to be able to try some of each.

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