Stuffed Eggplant? Well…

It’s been awhile since I cooked something adventurous. Since we’re always looking for flavorful vegetarian dishes, I decided to work with eggplant (totally forgetting that by itself, it’s just not flavorful). Last night, I tackled a recipe from Food & Wine Magazine, one that didn’t look complicated (just work-intensive, like so many of their recipes). The recipe is in a section of the magazine that highlighted the “new” red wines.

I made Mushroom Stuffed Eggplant from their April 2011 issue (pg 134). This recipe apparently pairs well with Xinomavro which was compared to Oregon Pinot Noir (but the Xino tends to be more tannic, and goes best with hearty dishes), but not having a plane available to hop to Greece for a bottle or two (and not wanting to go wine hunting after a grueling yoga class), I settled for a solid Pinot Noir that I know and like a lot, from Blackstone. I can usually get it for under $6 on sale at Vons. (But the whole wine thing is another blog post!)

Well, I made the stuffed part – I did what I was told, cut the meat of the eggplant out (which is NOT easy -I needed to drink a full 4 oz of wine to get through it) leaving a 1/4″ thick shell. Then I salted it and let it sweat for 30 minutes (while preparing the stuffing – dry baguette cut into cubes and mixed with red wine; cut mushrooms and sauteed them on the stove; sauteed the cut up eggplant on the stove; sauteed a yellow onion with garlic and a bit of cumin on the stove, mixed those three together. Then I wiped out the eggplant shells, rubbed them all over with olive oil, put them cut side down in a pan with 1/4 cup of water, covered them with foil, and baked for 45 minutes.

Yeah. 45 minutes. By the time that was done baking, in happy anticipation I lifted off the foil and prepared to turn the eggplant over to stuff them.

Except, the eggplants were flat. And soggy. And burned to the pan. All three, which kind of blew my mind. WTF? I downed a short glass of wine to think this out. Quickly ditching the whole “stuffed” thing, I got out my trusty 8×8 pan, sprayed it with cooking spray, and then mixed the stuffing together – bread cubes, mushrooms, eggplant, onions and garlic. Checking the recipe, I noticed it called for “young” pecorino.

Um. Excuse me? “Young” pecorino? Not only not knowing what that is, nor where I would be able to purchase it, I tossed in the scant handful left of Trader Joe’s shaved cheese mix (parmesean, romano, and asiago cheese) plus another half cup of mozzarella. A teaspoon of salt and pepper each, and then into the oven it went.

The recipe wanted me to up the oven temp to 425. I saw that as a waste, so kept it at 350 for 15 minutes, then put it under the broiler 4″ away from the flame for 4 minutes. It came out crispy on top, tender inside, and nicely cheesy.

I did make substitutions along the way – the recipe called for a red onion, which I forgot to buy, so I subbed a yellow onion. It also called for a full pound of mushrooms – I knew I had an 8 oz package in the fridge, so thought I was set. It wanted a day-old baguette – um, sorry, baguettes NEVER last more than one meal at my house – so I bought a fresh one, cut it up, and toasted the cubes in a dry pan on the stove on really high heat for about five minutes. Oh, and it also wanted a full teaspoon of cumin added. We’re not big cumin fans at my house, so I only added 1/4 tsp.

Recipe upshot?

Taste-wise, it gets a solid B (and maybe that was because I didn’t “follow” the recipe). Overall it was bland except for hints of the cumin and of course the terrific cheese I’d sprinkled in (though on second thought, perhaps a sharper cheese like feta would have been better). Prep-wise, it gets a definite D. I think I could take this recipe and modify it for people who actually work and don’t have a year to spend in the kitchen making dinner. This might be a really great stuffing for bell peppers; the recipe itself wanted more of a punch taste-wise (perhaps that was the cumin’s job?), and bell pepper would certainly add that. Even browned spiced ground beef or turkey (not too much, maybe a scant cup) would give it the extra oomph it needs.

But – yeah, overall kind of bland and that definitely could have been my fault. But it makes me think – why did the F&W folks pair a wine that goes best with hearty dishes with THIS dish? O.o

I don’t think I’ll be doing much with eggplant in the future. As my hubby says, eggplants are just not worth the effort. Except for Eggplant Parmigiana, but I prefer to order that one out!