This past September, I was contacted by a lovely lady named Jill who invited me to enter the “Legends From Europe Market Basket Recipe Contest For Bloggers”. Knowing that I need to work on my confidence in recipe development, I gave a resounding but shaky yes. In this contest, the bloggers get assigned a specific product, either a variety of Prosciutto or a specific cheese. The assignments are random and I got Montasio cheese. This wasn’t a cheese I was familiar with and I worried about finding it in my rural area. Luckily, a bulk liquor store with a great gourmet department had quite a bit of it. Whew! So it was on to the taste testing. Let me just say, this cheese is actually quite delicious. There are different types of Montasio and they vary some by flavor as well as firmness. The one I got is akin to a good Parmigiano in texture; firm, easy to grate and with a nice bite to it. The flavor is reminiscent of Swiss cheese but rather as if Swiss and Parmigiano had a love child. 😛 It’s lucky I bought a lot, because we absolutely love it.
I obsessed for the better part of a month over what to make but what finally decided me was when I saw some baby eggplant at the store. The cute factor won out lol. What’s weird is how I cook when I’m developing. There is little to no research, and I fly by the seat of my pants. I’m one of those people who does far better if I don’t plan things, just get in there and do it. That way of cooking worked well here. These stuffed eggplants are amazingly good. You have the meatiness of the lamb combined with the sweetness of the fruit, the sharpness and creaminess of the cheese, then the herbs and spinach joining with a slight bite from the curry and the red pepper flakes. Give this a try; I think you’ll be pleased.Â And if you find a good source of the Montasio cheese? Stock up. This cheese is wonderful!
Baby Eggplants Stuffed With Lamb, Fruit & Montasio Cheese
- 5 baby eggplants
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 3 minced shallots (about 3.5 tablespoons)
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried figs
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed as dry as possible
- 3 cups grated Montasio cheese, divided (use the large hole on a box grater)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13×9 inch baking pan. Slice each eggplant in half and lay cut side up in the baking pan. Brush them with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. When done, set aside to cool.
- While the eggplant cooks, pour the remaining 1 tablespoon olive into a large saucepan. Over medium heat, saute the lamb, shallots, onions and garlic in the olive oil until the meat is browned and the aromatics are limp and translucent. Drain well, then place back in the pan.Â Return heat to medium.
- To the lamb, add the apricots, figs, almonds and cranberries. Stir to combine then add the next 7 ingredients (through the black pepper). Stir and let cook for five minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When done, add in the spinach and stir well. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Use a sharp knife to cut along the inside edges of each eggplant half, making sure not to cut through the skin and leaving about a quarter inch thick shell.
- Scoop out the insides of the eggplants and either discard the pulp or use for another purpose. Lay each eggplant back on the baking dish, cut side up. Lay them close to each other for support.. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the Montasio over the insides of the eggplants.
- Add 2 cups of the remaining Montasio to the stuffing mixture in the pan. Stir well to combine.
- Stuff each eggplant half with about one third to one half a cup of the stuffing mixture (a slightly larger eggplant half can hold a touch more, smaller ones a bit less), pressing down lightly and mounding it up. The stuffing mix is fairly dense so it’s easy to compact and mound. You may end up with a few spoonfuls of the stuffing mixture left over. It’s wonderful fresh from the pan too, so eat up!
- Return to the 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is easily pierced with a fork through the side. Ten minutes into cooking, remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Montasio cheese over the eggplant halves and return to the oven for the last ten or so minutes of cooking time.
- Use a large spatula to carefully remove the eggplants from the pan and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish as desired and serve one half as an appetizer serving or two as an entree.
Wowza! I didn’t realize you had specific ingredients, but yum! It looks amazing and I LOVE the ingredients!