Melanzane alla tarantina (Taranto Style Eggplant)

Frankantipasti, contorno, Puglia50 Comments

Melanzane alla tarantina (Eggplant Taranto Style)

Eggplants might just be my favorite summer vegetable. In fact, eggplant parmigiana is probably my single favorite dish, but it is quite hefty eating as well as quite a multistep production to prepare. Sometimes you just want something lighter and easier to make without skimping on taste. Today’s dish, melanzane alla tarantina, or Eggplant Taranto Style, fits the bill perfectly.

The method is simplicity itself. You start by cutting the eggplant in half and soaking them in salted water to purge them of any bitterness. You then cut the flesh in a cross-hatch pattern and spread a savory mince of olives, capers, fresh herbs and grated cheese over the surface and into the incisions. Thus “semi-stuffed”, the eggplants halves are drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven or—even better in my estimation—grilled until very tender.

Traditionally considered a contorno or side dish served with, say, grilled meats, melanzane alla tarantina are tasty and substantial enough to serve as an antipasto or even light vegan main, with some crusty bread on the side.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 2 medium eggplants or 4 small eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
  • Salt

For seasoning the eggplant:

  • 2-3 heaping Tbs roughly chopped pitted black olives
  • 2-4 heaping Tbs capers
  • 2-3 heaping Tbs of freshly grated pecorino romano
  • A handful of fresh mint, finely minced
  • A handful of fresh basil, finely minced
  • Olive oil

Directions

Take the eggplant halves and let them soak in well-salted lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Cut incisions into the cut side of the eggplants in a cross-hatch pattern, taking care not to cut all the way through skin.

Mince together the olives, capers, basil and mint into a rough paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in the grated cheese.

Top the cut sides of the eggplants with the mince, pressing as much of it as you can into the incisions. (Here it helps to bend the eggplant every so slightly to open up the incisions.) Drizzle generously with the olive oil, letting it seep into the incisions.

Now it’s time to cook: You can either roast the eggplants on a baking sheet in a hot (200C/400F) oven or grill them over indirect heat, until very tender. Small eggplants should take about 30 minutes, medium ones around 45 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Melanzane alla tarantina (Eggplant Taranto Style)

Notes

To make melanzane alla tarantina you’ll want long eggplants that are not too large. Not “baby” eggplants necessarily, but small enough to cook through readily. I find that smaller eggplants, say around 15cm/6 in in length and 8cm/3 in wide are ideal. You can go larger but you’ll just need more roasting/grilling time. Save those giant eggplants that abound in our supermarkets (at least here in the US) for other preparations where the eggplant is sliced, like a parmigiana, or diced a funghetto. I’d also avoid Asian or other very slender eggplants, which would be awkward to cross hatch and “semi-stuff” in this way. As always, look for eggplants with shiny, unblemished skin. The simplicity of the dish means the eggplants need to be immaculately fresh.

Roasting/grilling times can vary a lot, depending not only on the size of your eggplant but also on their variety, age and freshness, so take the times given here as mere estimates. Before serving, always check your eggplant for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the cut side of the eggplant. The flesh of the eggplant should be very tender. If you meet any resistance, put it back in the oven or on the grill.

You will have noticed the calls for soaking the eggplants in well salted water rather than the more usual technique where you salt them directly and let the drain in a colander. In all honesty I’m only guessing, but I assume the more usual technique wouldn’t do much where your eggplant isn’t sliced or diced. (Many people maintain salting is unnecessary altogether with modern eggplants cultivars.) But hey, I’m sticking with tradition here, no questions asked. Innovate at your own risk…

And one word to the wise: don’t skimp on the oil. You need it not only for savor but to help the eggplant to come out tender as it should. In fact, it’s a good idea to check midway through cooking. If the eggplant looks a bit dry, drizzle on more oil. And a drizzle before serving wouldn’t be amiss, either.

Variations

In some recipes for melanzane alla tarantina you partially cook the eggplants in the oven (or on the grill) for 15 minutes to soften them some. This also allows time for the incisions to open up a bit so it’s easier to get the mince down into them. (Just let them cool off a bit, of course!) Then it’s back into the oven or on the grill for another 10 minutes or so. In some recipes, you scoop out the flesh of the par-roasted eggplant, and minced it with along the seasonings, then fill the eggplants shells with the mixture. This technique brings your melanzane alla tarantina closer to a typical stuffed eggplant recipe.

Melanzane alla tarantina

Eggplant Taranto Style
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes
Course: Antipasto, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Puglia
Keyword: grilled, roasted, vegetarian
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 medium 2 medium eggplants or 4 small eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
  • salt

For seasoning the eggplant

  • 2-3 heaping Tbs pitted black olives
  • 2-3 heaping Tbs capers rinsed and pat dry
  • A handful of fresh mint
  • A handful of fresh basil
  • 2-3 heaping Tbs freshly grated pecorino romano
  • olive oil

Instructions

  • Take the eggplant halves and let them soak in well-salted lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. 
  • Cut incisions into the cut side of the eggplants in a cross-hatch pattern, taking care not to cut all the way through skin. 
  • Mince together the olives, capers, basil and mint into a rough paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in the grated cheese. 
  • Top the cut sides of the eggplants with the mince, pressing as much of it as you can into the incisions. (Here it helps to bend the eggplant every so slightly to open up the incisions.) Drizzle generously with the olive oil, letting it seep into the incisions. 
  • Now it's time to cook: You can either roast the eggplants on a baking sheet in a hot (200C/400F) oven or grill them over indirect heat, until very tender. Small eggplants should take about 30 minutes, medium ones around 45 minutes. 
  • Serve warm or at room temperature. 

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50 Comments on “Melanzane alla tarantina (Taranto Style Eggplant)”

  1. Among all those great dishes, Eggplant parmigiana is our favourite too! But these days, it’s really too hot, I mean it’s always hot here, of course, but this summer is totally extreme. We literary start living at 10:00 p.m. and avoid turning the oven on. So parmigiana is on stand by until this heat decides to leave. This melanzane alla tarantina ( grilled version ) is great dish to do to enjoy fresh and tasty mellanzane!

    1. Great minds think alike… 😉 And yes, I’ve heard about the heatwave in Europe. My niece lives in Rome and is really suffering… Let’s hope it lets up soon!

  2. I love love eggplant! So delicious that I can’t believe some people detest it. I like the sound of the capers and olives here Frank.

    1. Thanks, Sherry! I know there are people who don’t like eggplant—including my own father!—but I just don’t understand it.

  3. I am a big eggplant fan and this light easy recipe with the capers, olive, mint, and basil sounds heavenly to me and perfect to use fresh summer herbs.

  4. Thanks for posting Frank! I was looking for another summer vegetable dish to try and this is it. I may try it on the grill.

  5. Frank, you ROCK! Every recipe is interesting, indigenous, and easy to enjoy without disrupting its authenticity (I can just hear the tarantella with this one). Many in the blog space succeed, but you excel. That’s deeply appreciated. I don’t know what you would call “speed dial” in this decade, but your site is on mine.

  6. I couldn’t agree more about eggplants being a fantastic summer vegetable! Eggplant parmigiana is indeed a classic and delicious dish, but sometimes we crave something lighter and easier to prepare. That’s this amazing dish comes in.

  7. This recipe definitely needs to happen here in our house! My father-in-law loves eggplant, and I’ve never come across this unique way of preparing it. The olive mixture on top sounds fantastic. I wonder if I could go off script and use the muffaletta salad recipe as a topping? The flavors are similar for sure!

  8. Frank, this is a beautiful way to serve up summer eggplant. Fresh simple ingredients equals amazing flavor. I am a fan of eggplant too. Your side dish reminds me of the many ways the Mediterranean culture serves up vegetables.

    Velva

  9. Oh, how just a few strong but harmonizing flavours can create magic! Simple but perfect! Agree with Pat butt have already put the recipe into my file to wait our turn 🙂 !

    1. So true, Eha. It’s a funny thing that the seasons get reversed depending on whether you’re living in the southern or northern hemisphere.

  10. What a shame we in Australia are in the middle of winter! Next summer I will make this from my harvest for sure! With grilled meat. Eggplat is my favourite vegetable also. This year I’m trying leaving the plants protected in the ground as apparently they live for 3 years if the frost doesn’t get them. I should have a great harvest and I’ll be trying eggplant parmigiana also, seeing as it is your favourite. Thanks Frank, always appreciate the Sunday morning emails 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your message, Pat! I think you’ll love both recipes. Eggplant parmigiana actually is a summer dish you can enjoy in the winter as it’s very hearty. That is, if you can manage to find eggplants. Here in the US, for better or worse, you can find them imported from who knows where in the dead of winter…

      1. You’re most welcome. I’m pretty much self sufficient with my vegetables so I eat seasonally from what I grow 🙂 They are also too expensive these days for me to justify buying them! I just want to say, I cook a Lot and have found your recipes to be excellent, intuitive and very achievable. They have changed the way my family eats, all the way around the other side of the globe. Keep it up Frank!

        1. That’s wonderful, Pat! The power of the internet to bring people together—whether for good or bad—never ceases to amaze me.

  11. Guess what? We are now having this for dinner on Wednesday! (It was going to be an eggplant stir fry but, once Mark saw this, everything changed.) This really looks so simple and flavorful. It will be our vegan main course!

      1. Frank – we loved this. It will become a staple for us — each of us had half an eggplant and a piece of homemade bread on the side, followed by a salad. The dish is really simple and packed with flavor. Thanks for another great recipe.

  12. As a kid I thought purple eggplant was beautiful, and I remember the lavender blossoms when my father grew it. But I don’t have any particular memories of liking or disliking or even of eating eggplant. My mother’s preparation of them seems not to have been memorable. For years I never ate egplant. Maybe it started with Ottolenghi’s cover-girl eggplant (even better the time I mis-read his recipe and tripled the olive oil!); in the last few years I can’t get enough of eggplant, in any way it is prepared. Now I can’t wait to try this recipe (or, rather enjoy DSA’s preparation of it). Thanks so much, Frank!

    1. I’m happy you came around about eggplant. It truly is an exquisite vegetable when properly prepared—and I’m sure DSA knows his way around eggplant cookery! And yes, it’s amazing how much oil eggplant can (read: should) take.

    1. Don’t like eggplant??? Oh my dear… actually, I recently found out my dad doesn’t like eggplant. That’s amazing to me since Angelina (his mother) made the most incredible parmigiana that I’ve ever tasted, even to this day.

  13. Bella cosa. I have seen these aubergines in recipes coming from the whole South. I guess it is a shared way with aubergines. I remember a Sardinian friend of mine telling me to add mint too, which is a nice touch. It is delicious and yes, unfortunately it does shine when a lots of oil is being used. ciao, stefano

  14. I have scored and grilled small eggplant but have never stuffed them…they sound great. I have shared your version on several of my Pinterest boards.

  15. That looks fabulous and very hand y for vegetarian friends – I will pas this on!
    I’m with you on a generous amount of oil – eggplants are thirsty.

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