It goes against logic, but I wound up with a surplus of eggplant. In February. There were a number of things that I thought about making–eggplant involtini, baba ganoush, eggplant hummus, eggplant panini–but they all seemed so ordinary and I was looking for something that would wow Mr. B, something a bit more memorable.
Perhaps it was the grey overcast sky and the drizzle, but I got to thinking about one summer when Mr. B and I were first married. We both had the fortune of being ‘between jobs’ when two other couples that we knew invited us along on a trip to Spain. First, we would stay in Madrid, and then we would travel on to Menorca, part of the archipelago off the coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea.
Since there really isn’t a better time to travel than when you’re free of occupational responsibilities, it didn’t take long for us to book our tickets and pack our suitcases.
In Madrid, we had the pleasure of staying at the house of our friend’s aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, there was little scintillating conversation. In fact, there was very little conversation at all. They spoke no English and my expertise in Spanish was all in translating texts into English. Very old archaic texts. So, we opted for the universal means of conversing with others when there is no shared language–hand gestures, facial expressions and lots and lots of smiling. The aunt had another way of communicating, one that transcends all obstacles–food. She made sure we were well fed, and both her and I realized that I had a particular and deep love for her croquettes–beautiful golden cakes of ham and Béchamel dredged in egg and bread crumbs and fried to perfection. When she realized just how much I loved these little treasures, she made them again and again, and I ate them. All of them, with unabashed gusto as she looked on, smiling all the while.
While my croquettes don’t include the Béchamel, they are golden and crisp and ooze mozzarella. And Mr. B? Well, he found them irresistible and as he devoured them one by one, I looked on, smiling.
3 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into medium-sized chunks
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 cup (total) finely minced celery leaves and celery stalk
1 T. Garlic, finely minced
1 T. Lemon zest
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, for extra spiciness)
1/4 cup finely chopped olives stuffed with anchovies (these make the dish and they don’t taste fishy)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Panko bread crumbs
1. Put eggplant cubes into a colander in the sink and sprinkle with salt. Allow eggplant to sit for 1-2 hours.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add eggplant. Blanch eggplant until it is soft, but still has a bit of firmness.
3. Drain eggplant in a colander and let sit 10-15 minutes, or until it’s cooled down.
4. With a potato masher, or your hands, press the water out of the eggplant makings sure to get as much of the liquid out as possible.
5. Transfer the eggplant to a food processor and process until just chopped.
6. Put eggplant into a bowl and mix in the parsley, celery, olives, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
7. Mix in 1 egg, slightly beaten.
8. Add enough bread crumbs so that the mixture holds its shape when formed into a patty, but not so much that the mixture is dry.
9. Make patties by shaping 2-3 T of the mixture. Set patties on a sheet pan off to the side.
10. Put the formed patties into the refrigerator for an hour or so.
11. When ready, mix two eggs together with about 1/4 cup of water. Dip eggplant patties into egg mixture and then dredge in bread crumbs.
12. In a large frying pan, heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil to 350º.
13. Fry the croquettes until crisp and golden; do not overcrowd pan.
14. Drain on paper towels.
15. Add additional oil and clean pan between uses as necessary.
16. Serve with fresh lemon wedges and additional parmesan cheese.