Mario's Melanzane al Fungo

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An eggplant bruschetta made without tomatoes? How can this be good?

I had some farm eggplants fading fast. The situation was so desperate that the eggplants felt…almost soupy inside. Clearly this was an eggplant emergency, but after a long day at work and few ingredients in the house, I wasn't quite sure how to deal with them.

Mario's Melanzane al Fungo to the rescue. Eggplant cooked in the style of mushrooms. In fact, I had made a version of this several times in the past from other cookbooks. It was always good, as eggplant always is. But as I have so often discovered, Mario has one or two ingredients or techniques that set his dishes apart from the usual, and so it turned out to be in this case.

After I had finished cooking the eggplant, I found the result oily, slightly bitter, and bland. I blamed it on the declining life of the eggplants themselves and with a shrug thought, "I tried." But then something happened.

Giving it up for lost, I proceeded to add more and more of what turned out to be three crucial ingredients:

  • Parsley (I have tons growing in the garden)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

It seems ridiculous, but in a dish this simple, the more you add of those three ingredients, the more the dish comes to life. By the time I was done the oily, bitter, and bland eggplant dish was transformed into a succulent, creamy, fresh-tasting festival that I could not keep from shoving in my mouth. And this was the reaction of all who ate of it.

Based on this experience, here are my recommendations for making it in the future (which should definitely happen):

  • Do use extra virgin olive oil here. This dish is so simple that the quality of the oil really matters. If the eggplant is the primary ingredient, then the oil is surely the second.
  • Use a red onion, and don't skimp.
  • Use more garlic than the recipe calls for. This dish wants the garlic.
  • If you think you've added too much parsley, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, you haven't. If you're worried that adding more of these might negatively affect the dish, it won't. Add liberally until it tastes delicious.
  • Black pepper. Black. Pepper.

See a version of the recipe here:

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