Chef Pilar Valdes' Eggplant Balls
- 2 Medium Eggplants (2 Lbs. Total) Top and bottom trimmed
- 4 Tbsp Olive Oil Divided
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
- 1/2 Tsp Chili Flakes
- 1/2 Tsp Dried Oregano
- 2 Tbsp Chopped Fresh Basil Plus 2 sprigs for serving
- Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
- 1/2 Cup Seasoned Breadcrumbs
- 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Plus more for serving
- 1 Egg Beaten
- 4 Oz Fresh Mozzarella Cut into 1" cubes
- 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 24 Oz Your Favorite Store-Bought Tomato Sauce
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel the eggplant in an alternating manner so that stripes of the peel remain. Cut into 1” cubes. Toss with a couple of pinches of salt and place in a colander for 15 minutes.
Transfer the eggplant to a prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast until tender, fully cooked and slightly caramelized, stirring halfway through, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place the cooled eggplant into a large bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher until it resembles chunky applesauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, chili flakes, oregano, chopped basil, lemon juice and zest, breadcrumbs, parmesan and egg. Stir until incorporated. The mixture should feel wet, but not too loose; it should hold some shape when formed into a ball. Add a little more breadcrumbs if it doesn’t. Scoop out the mixture into 15 even portions and flatten slightly into a disk. (I just re-use the baking sheet that I roasted the eggplant on!) Place a cube of mozzarella in the center of the eggplant disk and then close the seam and roll so it’s fully enclosed. The eggplant balls should be gold ball sized, about 2 ounces a piece.Repeat with the remaining portions.
Set a 10” oven-safe pan, such as a cast iron, over medium heat. Add the vegetable oil and tilt and swirl to coat the bottom. Sear the balls until golden brown, flipping half-way through; about 3 minutes total. Pour your tomato sauce into the pan, drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top and dot with any leftover mozzarella as well. Transfer the pan back into the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the mozzarella is melted.
Finish with some more parmesan cheese, freshly torn basil. Enjoy directly from the skillet!