Aubergine Fritters (or, Fritters of Harmony)

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Napkin rings – my new peace-keeping weapon.

With five of us in a very small house, things can get what you might call a little hectic. As I write, The Poppet is rollerskating around and around the table. “You’re going to have to stop going round and round in circles like that,” I say to her, and she responds, “I’m going in hexagrams.” Well, at least she’s learning something.

At dinner time, a time that The Author and I look longingly toward every day – anticipating a good meal, a well-deserved glass of wine, and some scintillating talk – the three topics of conversation that the kids want to engage in are: 1. miscellaneous facts and questions about The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings; 2. what it is about this particular meal that they don’t like; and 3. who took whose napkin. 

Maybe because I am not 10 or 13 years old anymore, I don’t really care whose napkin I use, just as long as it’s not particularly grungy from a previous family member (fat chance, seeing as the sleeves of school jumpers are the preferred method of wiping one’s mouth). And even though the napkins ARE ALL DIFFERENT, there is still a lot – and I mean A LOT – of whinging from the younger set about who had which napkin in the days before. So I’d had enough.

I was at the dining table making papiermâché napkin rings with The Author and the Oldest, when the aubergine exploded.  All three of us looked up in alarm. After a moment I realised what it was, and so I went to the stove, opened the oven door and cautiously peered in.

Three aubergines were perfectly cooked, and a fourth lay open, surprisingly – considering the loud boom – intact in its opened skin. Before things could get out of hand (not that I would ever have any experience of that), I got all the aubergines out and safely onto the counter, and we continued making the napkin rings of peace. One lives in hope.

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A very neat and tidy explosion – look how the flesh has even conveniently separated from the skin!

Aubergine Fritters

Adapted (just barely) from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

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If you want to know the truth, when making this I thought more than once, “What a faff these are – I’m not sure this recipe is worth it.” But then, when I was almost done, I realised it wasn’t actually as time-consuming or arduous as I had made it out to be. And one taste convinced me that it is SO worth any time you put into it. Five out of five people at our dinner table agree. And just because of that, these may be the fritters of harmony.

  • 500g aubergines
  • 60g (1/3 cup) breadcrumbs
  • 3Tb parsley, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, puréed (see instructions here)
  • 1 egg
  • 50g (3Tb) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (or grana padano)
  • salt and pepper
  • sunflower oil
  • flour

Prick each aubergine a few times with a fork or sharp knife, then place them on a rack in a preheated 200C (400F) oven and cook for about 40 minutes, until they can be easily pierced by a toothpick. (When I first made these, I did stop to wonder at the instructions – which did not include piercing them before baking – but I carried on gamely following the recipe. I always like to follow a recipe exactly the first time, especially when it’s from Marcella Hazan, doyenne of Italian cookery. But I prefer not to live dangerously so from now on I will poke holes in the aubergines before I put them in the oven; I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to live on the edge or not.)

When the aubergine are done cooking, remove them from the oven. This is where you can get on prepping the rest of the ingredients (or making your napkin rings). When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, pull off and discard the skin, then chop the flesh into large chunks and set in a colander to drain. Marcella says that you can “encourage” this process by gently squeezing the aubergine; I would say you should be a little more assertive and give it a good old wringing.

Chop the drained aubergine very, very fine. (This is where i started to think that the recipe was going on a little too much, so I suppose you could use a food processor and pulse the aubergine until you have small pieces, but I think I would still chop it by hand, for the control it gives.)

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Everything ready to be mixed.

In a large bowl, mix the aubergine with the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, egg and cheese. Add salt and pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon each), mix in thoroughly, and then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Shape the mixture into patties that are about 5cm (2 inches) in diameter and about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Dredge the patties in flour and keep them single layer on the counter or a sheet pan.

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Not very promising in appearance at this point.

Pour the sunflower oil to a depth of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) in a frying pan with deep sides, and heat it over medium high heat. (To test if it is ready, drop a breadcrumb in the oil; it should start to sizzle straightaway and turn golden brown.) Using a heatproof or metal spatula, gently slip the patties into the pan, leaving plenty of space around each. (You will need to do this in batches.) When the bottoms are nicely browned (“when they have formed a nice dark crust”) turn them over and cook the other side. When they are done, remove them to a wire rack placed over a sheet pan to catch any dripping oil. (I’ve read that using a wire rack will keep fried food crispier than draining on paper towels; it seems to be true, so I stick to that method.) You can keep the cooked ones in a warm oven while you fry the rest. Taste to correct for salt – I sprinkled a little Maldon sea salt (my favourite!) on ours at the end.

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The oil has taken on an amazing yellow hue, and the fritters are getting better by the second.

Serve to the acclaim of all, even those who look at it and ask, “What exactly is in these?” or “Are these meat?” before devouring all of them.

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