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X Italian Vegetable and Side Dishes
stuffed eggplants
Melanzana Imbottiti dei Poveri (Poor Man's Stuffed Eggplant)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Any tiime
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her maternal grandmother's recipe)

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4 medium eggplants

For stuffing

Pulp from eggplants
1 cup home-made (or "plain") breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the sauce

2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Cut the tops of the eggplants (reserve).

2. Scoop out the pulp from the eggplants.

3. Chop up the eggplant pulp.

4. Saute the eggplant pulp for about 4 minutes.

5. In a large bowl mix the fried eggplant pulp with the breadcrumbs, beaten egg, herbs and spices.

6. Fill the eggplant shells with the mixture.

7. Place the stuffed eggplants (upright) in the pan with the 2 cups of water. Add a bay leaf, oregano and parsley.

Replace the tops of the eggplants.

8. Cover the pan and cook for about 45 minutes.

9. Serve warm.


Prior to World War II many cooks, including my late maternal grandmother, Nonna Seppe, had to make do with very little. In fact, the poor woman did not even have a cheese grater! And she wasn't the only one. While the well-to-do had graters with which they grated cheese and dried bread, many farmers did without. So, it's not surprising that old-style country cooking had its limits. For example, this version of stuffed eggplant is (in my opinion) not very appetizing. I would not recommend it. For versions I do recommend see "Traditional Meat Dishes." Sometimes, with a little this and that the poor turned a simple meal into a delicious one, but sometimes it was not possible to work miracles. Obviously, the more ingredients one had, the easier it was to prepare "something out of nothing." My paternal grandmother, whose family owned more property in the area, had more resources available (She did have a grater!) and so her recipes are generally more interesting to do, and more fun to eat!. In any case, what interests me (And I hope other people) is the history of food, rather than its mere consumption. How foods were (and/or are) prepared in poorer households reveals as much about a country as its art, or anything else for that matter. So that's why I keep looking for old recipes and trying them out. It's not about the food -- not at all. I guess, in an odd way, I am trying to break bread with my ancestors. Have "communion" with them. Not in a magical or mystical way, but in a very practical way. By doing things "their" way rather than "my" way, I get to know them a bit better. And then who knows -- if I'm lucky -- they'll watch over me (I need all the "super-natural" help I can get!). Photo: Mary Melfi.

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