Eggplant might just be my favorite summer vegetable, and we’ve prepared it every which way on this blog: grilled, sautéed, marinated, breaded and fried and of course baked, as a classic parmigiana di melanzane. We’ve even shown you how to prepare eggplant as a chocolate covered dessert! But for some reason, I haven’t yet gotten around to blogging about stuffed eggplant, or melanzane imbottite, also known as melanzane ripiene.
In this Neapolitan take on stuffed eggplant, smaller eggplant are split in half, their flesh carved out with a paring knife and sautéed in garlic and olive oil along with a few tomatoes, then mixed with some typically Southern flavors: olives, capers and, if you like, anchovies, along with fresh herbs. That mixture becomes your stuffing. A spell in a hot oven allows the flavors to meld and the top to brown nicely. Et voilà!
I really like this way of stuffing eggplant. Unlike many stuffed vegetable recipes, the eggplant isn’t just filler for some other ingredient such as meat or fish. It remains the star of the show, the stuffing enhanced but not overwhelmed by zesty flavorings. Melanzane imbottite alla napoletana may not be much of a looker, but I guarantee the taste won’t disappoint, either as antipasto or a side dish. It would be right at home as part of a late summer cookout.
- 4-6 small eggplants
- Olive oil
For the stuffing:
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 200g (7 oz) cherry tomatoes, split in half
- 4-6 heaping Tbs breadcrumbs
- A handful of capers, rinsed
- A handful of black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- A sprig of fresh parsley, finely minced
- A pinch of oregano
- Salt and pepper
- A few anchovy fillets (optional)
Split the eggplant vertically in half. With a sharp paring knife, cut out the flesh from each half, leaving a shell of skin and flesh about 1cm (1/3 inch) deep. (See Notes below for details.) Salt the insides of the shells and let them to rest, hollow side down, on a rack for about an hour.
Cut the eggplant flesh into small pieces. In a large skillet, sauté the garlic in abundant olive oil until they start to give off their aroma then add the eggplant cubes along with the tomatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the eggplant is perfectly soft, stirring from time to time.
Turn off the heat and mix in the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Taste and adjust for seasoning; the stuffing should be very savory. Let cool.
Take your eggplant shells and wipe them off with paper towels and scrape off any discolored flesh from the insides of the shells with a spoon. Rub the insides with olive oil and let them stand for a fewminutes to let the oil penetrate. Then fill each shell with your stuffing.
Place the eggplant shells on a baking or gratin pan, which you will have greased with olive oil. Drizzle more olive oil over each shell. Bake in a moderate (180C/350F) oven for about 45 minutes to a hour, or until the shells are cooked through and the stuffing is nicely browned on top. (You can raise the heat to 190C/375F towards the end if need be.)
Let cool off at least a bit before serving. In my opinion, melanzane imbottite alla napoletana are at their best served only slightly warm or at room temperature.
You want smaller eggplants for making melanzane imbottite alla napoletana, but not actual baby eggplant you might use for making marinated eggplant a scapece. The ones shown here, about 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) long and 5-8 cm (2-3 inches) at its widest, worked nicely. (NB: These are just ‘ball park’ figures. No need to bring a measuring tape to the market. 😉)
Certain other stuffed eggplant recipes have you boil or bake the eggplant to soften the flesh before removing it, in which case you usually just scoop it out with a spoon. Here the eggplant is stuffed raw, which makes makes removing the flesh a bit tricker. You’ll need a paring knife rather than spoon. You run the knife around the perimeter of the eggplant, as mentioned leaving about a centimeter (1/4 inch) of flesh attached to the skin to serve as your shell. You can then score the flesh and run the knife underneath the surface horizontally to remove the flesh in large strips or chunks. The operation is actually more complicated to describe than it is to perform, so I’d recommend taking a look at this video. It’s for another recipe (from Puglia) but starting at 2:00 it illustrates the technique fairly well:
Not all recipes for melanzane imbottite alla napoletana call for it, but since you’ll be cooking your eggplant shells raw, I think pre-salting them is an important step. It helps soften them up a bit to help ensure they come out tender. Rubbing them with oil too is my personal little added precaution. The oil penetrates the flesh and helps break it down while the flesh roasts. This doesn’t happen when you simply expose the flesh to hot dry heat.
As for the tomato, I prefer to use cherry or grape tomatoes, split in half as called for here. They soften but stay intact. But many recipes call for regular tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped. Those will tend to melt into the stuffing. The capers can be either the salted or brined type; in either case I’d rinse them off before adding them to the stuffing mixture so they don’t overpower the other ingredients. The anchovies are optional. The dish is vegan without them. Personally, I mostly leave them out. I find their flavor a bit too strong for this dish.
Some recipes for melanzane imbottite call for grated pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Personally I’m not a big fan. I don’t think that the briny flavors of the olives, capers and anchovies marries particularly well with aged cheeses. But if it appeals to you, as they say these days: Hey, you be you…
In her classic La Cucina Napoletana, Francesconi’s old school recipe for melanzane ripiene calls for a richer stuffing that includes a couple of eggs and cubes of mozzarella. The eggplants are then napped with a simple tomato sauce before baking. She also tells you to pre-fry the shells. (Her way of making sure they come out tender, I suppose.) The chopped eggplant and tomatoes are then sautéed separately before being mixed with the rest of the filling ingredients. Quite a bit more elaborate, Francesconi’s take on melanzane imbottite is definitely more of an antipasto or even a main course than a contorno, but it does sound good.
There are even more substantial ways to stuff eggplants, using meat or seafood not unlike this recipe for stuffed zucchini or this one for stuffed peppers. But at that point you’re really talking about different dishes entirely. We’ll get to them one of these days.
Melanzane imbottite alla napoletana
- 4-6 eggplant
- Olive oil
For the stuffing
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 200g 7 oz cherry tomatoes split in half
- 4-6 4-6 heaping Tbs breadcrumbs
- A handful capers rinsed
- A handful black olives pitted and roughly chopped
- A sprig fresh parsley finely minced
- A pinch oregano
- Salt and pepper
- A few anchovy fillets optional
- Split the eggplant vertically in half. With a sharp paring knife, cut out the flesh from each half, leaving a shell of skin and flesh about 1cm (1/3 inch) deep. Salt the insides of the shells and let them to rest, hollow side down, on a rack for about an hour.
- Cut the eggplant flesh into small pieces. In a large skillet, sauté the garlic in abundant olive oil until they start to give off their aroma then add the eggplant cubes along with the tomatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the eggplant is perfectly soft, stirring from time to time.
- Turn off the heat and mix in the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Taste and adjust for seasoning; the stuffing should be very savory. Let cool.
- Take your eggplant shells and wipe them off with paper towels. Scrape off any discolored flesh from the insides of the shells with a spoon. Rub the insides with olive oil and let them stand for a fewminutes to let the oil penetrate. Then fill each shell with your stuffing.
- Place the eggplant shells on a baking or gratin pan, which you will have greased with olive oil. Drizzle more olive oil over each shell. Bake in a moderate (180C/350F) oven for about 45 minutes to a hour, or until the shells are cooked through and the stuffing is nicely browned on top. (You can raise the heat to 190C/375F towards the end if need be.)
- Let cool off at least a bit before serving. In my opinion, melanzane imbottite alla napoletana are at their best served only slightly warm or at room temperature.
Beautiful recipe, Frank! I just made a similar recipe though it was topped with mozzarella. I think I will prefer your version…
Thanks, David! Not long after I posted this, I tried a richer version which was, among other things, topped with mozzarella. It was perfectly delicious, too. But much more filling, of course. All depends on what you’re in the mood for, I guess.
Yum! I love melanzane-and I can’t believe how many people say they can’t stand it! I made ravioli filled with melanzane recently and they were so refreshing. I’ve always stuffed the the way you describe Francesconi’s, although I do not fry the boats. That sounds kind of gross. I like the way yours are simpler, with no cheese or meat. I will have to try them this way. Ciao, Cristina
It’s incredible to me that anyone doesn’t like eggplant. But there you go… Hope you like them this way. Actually I’m pretty sure you will!
thanks again for simple recipe for great foo. I used a grapefruit knife to get the flesh out
Great tip, John. Thanks!
Wonderful, wonderful dish Frank ! Our street markets are bursting with eggplants, all sizes and colours ! Must do your version ! Thank you so much and enjoy your week end !
Thank so much, guys! Hope your summer is going well.
I have recently been with several people who claim that they hate eggplant. I can’t imagine not eating this delicious vegetable, especially in a recipe like this. I’m going to have to direct them to your site.
I know, can you believe it?
I’m a huge fan of stuffed eggplant, but I haven’t made any for a long time – thank you for such a delicious reminder. This truly looks terrific! Beautiful combination of flavours. I also like the idea of adding anchovy fillets; never tried but must be a lovely addition.
Thanks so much, Ben. Glad this one appealed to you. The anchovies do make for a nice change.
I’m a real veggie girl and your stuffed eggplants look delicious. I could make a meal of them.
And so could I, Karen. Thanks so much for your comment!
Wow, this recipe sounds fantastic, Frank! The combination of ingredients in that filling is right up my alley, and I’m thinking this would be a fun recipe to make as the weather begins to turn cold. And great tips here, too (as always)!
Thanks so much, David!
Loved the video even though I didn’t understand a word of it 🤣. She has a great method for removing the flesh. I adore eggplant but JT is not a big fan, but perhaps I’ll make this when he’s not eating at home. Looks like a lovely light lunch.
Ha! Well with a lot of cooking videos the words don’t much matter… It is a lovely dish. As an eggplant maven I have a hard time understanding how anyone wouldn’t like it!
Another delicious looking dish, thanks Frank. I love eggplants but my husband won’t touch them. I might just have to make it for myself.
I hope you do, Gerlinde. It’s hard for me to fathom how anyone couldn’t like eggplant… !
I love preparing and eating stuffed vegetables, especially zucchini I cook in a similar manner to this. Very much liking the ‘look’ of your offering, it took me a moment to realize you had used cherry tomatoes very effectively – shall copy ! Also you are heavier with your capers and olives . . . shall certainly try !
Hope you like it, Eha! Nothing like stuffed vegetables, especially in the summer. Love zucchini stuffed, too.
Le faccio anche io ripiene in tanti modi diversi, però questa tua versione mi stuzzica parecchio, complimenti Frank !
Grazie per il commento, Chiara, Sei troppo gentile. 🙂
This is wonderful! I love the olives and cherry tomatoes in the filling. Just wonderful.
Thanks so much, Mimi!
I’m been lusting after eggplant for the last two or three weeks, so your timing is perfect! This is a dish I’ve never made, although I’ve had various versions of it served to me over the years. Wonderful recipe, one I must make. Thanks!
If you like eggplant, I think you’d like this, John! Thanks for you comment. 🙂
A perfect example of how vegetarian cuisine can be just as stellar as meat dishes! Nice one, Frank!
Totally agree, Christina. Thanks for stopping by!
You say your eggplant is not much of a looker, but I disagree. Your photo is beautiful and makes me want to taste it right now!
Thanks so much, Kath! You’re too kind… 🙂
I think it could be my favourite summer vegetable too, stuffed like that!