CHOCOLATE EGGPLANTS: A BLAZE OF UNEXPECTED GOODNESS
Bringing together eggplants and chocolate in a recipe may surely sound weird to somebody. Actually, despite the prejudices, it's a formidable and surprising pairing used in some of the best desserts of the Amalfi Coast.
by Barbara Iovine
Unknown to most people, the unusual combination of eggplant and chocolate is often considered a bit of a gamble. The delicious vegetable, classic protagonist of many savory dishes, like the irresistible Parmigiana, is rarely served with the delicious, sweet chocolate. Despite this, the combination of these two different ingredients has managed to convince even the most skeptical tasters.
You will have the opportunity to taste the chocolate eggplants in Maiori — and in all the cities of the Amalfi Coast — especially in the period of the Assumption feast, on August 15, or on the occasion of the festivals dedicated to this dessert.
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Eggplants with chocolate
Who would have thought of combining eggplants and chocolate? In the origins of sweet parmigiana, there are monks, nuns, and tsars
Like many of the dishes and the traditions that came from ancient times, the chocolate eggplants also come with several credible and interesting stories about their creation.One of the stories says that the Augustinian nuns of Santa Maria della Misericordia — the same ones we thank for the creation of other delicious local sweets, such as struffoli and roccocò — invented and spread this dessert.
It was the niece of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II who baptized the popularity of this dish. After the birth of her child during her stay in Sant'Agnello, near Sorrento, the aforementioned nuns brought a basket full of local delicacies as a gift, to pay homage to the new mother. The basket included the characteristic eggplants with chocolate, and it became the most appreciated dish by the noblewoman.
On the other hand, the creators may be the Franciscan friars of an ancient convent in Tramonti. According to the legend, they were the first to cook the vegetable in such an extravagant way, dressing the fried eggplants with a sweet and liqueur compound.
Instead, the last supposition is that the Americans, who landed in Italy during the Second World War loaded with stocks of chocolate, had given a good part of it to the Campania farmers. The imagination of the wives of the latter — who had as only food available the fruits of the earth — did the rest: a sort of sweet parmigiana was born!
Eggplants with chocolate nowadays
Whatever the origin of this dessert is, we can say that the final result is the successful fruit of a truly imaginative mind.
In no time, the eggplants with chocolate spread throughout the area and everyone made their changes: after a little, the liqueur compound of the friars was replaced by melted chocolate.
The recipe was also shared with local pastry chefs, becoming an integral part of the coastal culinary tradition. In more recent times, Master Pastry Chef Sal De Riso reinterpreted it, enhancing its taste and quality, and brought this pie to the national stages, improving its popularity and spreading its taste beyond the Campania borders.
The combination of two very intense flavors: the bitter taste of eggplant and the sweetness of chocolate, although it can be considered incomprehensible, especially the first time you hear about it, turns out to be a real delight for the palate. The initial skepticism in thinking of these two very different elements turns into pleasant amazement after tasting the first bite: the bitterness of the vegetable, which bites the tongue with its intensity, is absorbed by the warmth of the melted chocolate, creating a totally new experience for the taste buds.
The traditional recipe and its variants
Today, it is difficult to say with certainty which was the original preparation of this peculiar dessert, because there are nowadays several variants. The most famous is the one with the alternation of layers of fried eggplants, chocolate cream, and almond and macaroons grains.
The other two famous versions include a double fry of the eggplant: the first one by dipping the peeled and sliced vegetable in oil, the second covering it in flour, and then dipping it in the egg.
Some people add to the chocolate the Concerto liqueur, typical of the coastal area, while others add orange peel, cherries, or candied oranges.
The Sal De Riso variant instead involves a dusting of cocoa, sugar, and cinnamon on the eggplants, before covering them with chocolate.
Anyway, each pastry chef has made his traditional recipe, adding to it a personal touch. In this way, you are spoiled for choice: do not miss the opportunity to taste all the versions, so you can decide which one is the most delicious!
"Images by G. Panarotto, taken from Sal De Riso book ‘Profumo di limone’, ed. Italian Gourmet.”
- Today this dessert is typical of the feast of the Assumption, on August 15th, when it is easy to find large and tasty seasonal eggplants. Also, it is the protagonist of numerous summer festivals dedicated to the “mulignana cu 'a ciucculata” (eggplants chocolate, in Neapolitan dialect).
- The liqueur compound used to dress the eggplants is obtained by adding the Concerto liqueur, made with different herbs and spices, barley and coffee, originally prepared by the Franciscan friars of Tramonti.
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