Eggplant Meatballs

“meatballs” before being tossed
This recipe has become semi-regular for me since first trying it at cooking club.  The other members first ate it and kept asking what kind of meat was in with the eggplant, it was that hearty and “meaty.”  I made this blog here for my sister’s vegetarian friend, while we also made regular meatballs. 
(I have also made them one more time since this original recipe where I baked them instead of pan-frying them, and it did simplify the steps with removing the searing stage. 
Original Recipe:
1 eggplant (1 pound), stemmed and cut into about 4ths, long-wise
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 1/2 cups fresh or dried breadcrumbs, (skip baking step if dried)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, minced plus 2 cloves
1 large egg
1 can (28 ounce) whole plum tomatoes, pulsed in food processor, but diced, pureed or marinara sauce work work here in a time pinch.
Red pepper flakes
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, place in a single layer around a colander set over a bowl, and let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant, drain, and squeeze dry, pressing out excess moisture and patting with paper towel. (Removing excess moisture helps make it easier to roll the balls.. you can also add more breadcrumbs later if necessary.) 
Meanwhile, spread 1 1/3 cup breadcrumbs in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until dried and just turning golden, 5 minutes. Let cool. (if using dried, skip this step.)
Nephew Hunter, helping out with the breadcrumbs
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the eggplant in a single layer; cook, flipping one time, about 5 minutes. Transfer to colander. Repeat adding another tablespoon of oil and second half of eggplant. If pan gets too hot, adjust heat. Wipe out pan. Let eggplant cool slightly in colander. 
Add cooked eggplant to food processor along with Parmesan, and minced garlic. Pulse until mixture is a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl.


Mix in salt, pepper, and egg. Chill until cold, about 30 minutes. 
Form mixture into 12 balls, coating the outsides with remaining breadcrumbs to help shape the balls. 
Chill at least 1 hour until firmer and cold and up to overnight. (Best results with an overnight chill. I have not done this each time, as additional breadcrumbs can also help, but do dry it out a little bit more) 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 10 inch enameled cast iron casserole or cast iron skillet over medium-high. Add meatballs working in two batches; cook, turning carefully with a spoon to help retain shape, until browned all over, about 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
(Carefully) Add remaining tablespoon oil and sliced garlic; stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, a large pinch of red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt; bring to a boil. 
(note: your pan may be really hot here, and the sauce could splatter, so make sure your pan is cool enough to add sauce to.  If using pre-made sauce, then you’ll just need to warm the sauce and toss.)
Return meatballs to pan; spooning sauce over to coat. 
Bake until sauce is slightly thickened, 18 minutes. Remove casserole from oven. Set oven to broil. Top each meatball with a piece of mozzarella; return to oven. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots, about 3 to 4 minutes.


Original Recipe:

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