Chocolate Eggplant

About one month ago, while perched atop the Amalfi coast nestled in a friend's villa in Ravello, the conversation about chocolate eggplant ensued.  Our hosts, the consummate foodies, told us about a particular trattoria in Amalfi that served chocolate eggplant for dessert. But our friend couldn't remember the name of the place nor did she know that some version of this unique dessert is famous, or typical, in that area -- especially in spring and summer.  Knowing our friend's taste for the discreet, we ambled along the main street of Amalfi (after sampling a cannoli at the well-known pasticceria Pansa), asking everyone where we could find it.  No one seemed to know.  That is, until we got to the Macelleria and inquired.  "Next door!," the affable butcher said. "They have it at the nice trattoria next door but they don't open until 6 p.m." We waited.

While my husband loved his main course of butterflied sardines, that were lightly battered and sauteed (including a gossamer layer of cheese to hold them together), I devoured my dish of grilled provola in lemon leaves (another dish typical of the area) at the lovely Trattoria dei Cartari.  But I longed for the eggplant.  It arrived and certainly stole the attention of the two children sitting next to us.  For awash in a sea of dark molten chocolate strewn with pine nuts, were two thin slices of shapely eggplant, fried twice (as the waiter told us).  The eggplant had a texture that tasted almost like thick moist apricot leather, and I couldn't figure out how it was done.  I must say that it was very, very good!  The slight bitterness of the eggplant played against the flavor of the not-too-sweet chocolate, accented with toasty notes of almonds.  It was worth searching for and yes, it was the place our friend frequented.  The next day, not fully satisfied that I understood the concept, we went to the shop of the most famous pastry chef of the Amalfi coast -- Salvatore di Riso (Sal for short).  There, the chocolate eggplant was interpreted into a fudgey square of layered eggplant, thick chocolate (ganache-like) and candied fruit, flavored with liqueur (probably Concerto, a liqueur popular in that region), and served icy cold.   While festive and interesting, I preferred the simple, warm, almost earthy version we had in Amalfi.  However improbable it was, it was delicious.

I have not prepared the recipe I offer below, but searched for one that most closely approximated the dish we liked.   A recipe for Sal di Riso's "Melanzane al Cioccolato" can be found at

Chocolate Eggplant (courtesy of the Canadian Food Network)

2 eggplants, thinly sliced lengthwise coarse sea salt flour for dredging olive oil, for deep-frying 16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, in small pieces 1 cup milk 1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped

Prep the eggplant by salting the slices and laying them in a colander for 30 minutes.  Rinse and pat very dry.  Dredge eggplant into the flour and fry in olive oil set at 375 degrees. Do not fry too many pieces at one time (it will lower the cooking temperature.)  Lay on paper towels to absorb oil.  (Note by RG:  you might want to fry it again to best approximate the texture we experienced in Italy.  You may also use lightly toasted pine nuts instead of the almonds.)  Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water until smooth.  Whisk in enough milk to make it creamy but still rather thick.   Pour over the eggplant and sprinkle nuts on top.   Let sit at room temperature or serve slightly warm.  Serves 6 or more.

Notes from Ravello: Chocolate Eggplant

This beautiful trip to Campania (the south of Italy) is not all about food, but also about music, discovery, brief encounters with strangers, valuable time with friends, shopping, Duomos, ancient gardens, walking, hiking, and oh, did I mention food? On what promises to be a splendid day of boating along the Amalfi coast from Minori to Positano, I am perched upon a terrace hanging over the sea, at our lovely Hotel Rufolo in Ravello. For my primo colazione, I try a cornetto with homemade quince jam (very sweet!), a few slices of boiled ham and a delicious roll with sweet butter and coarsely ground orange marmellata –also fatta en casa (homemade).  I am enjoying the sweet, bitter, and salty notes this morning against a double dose of strong espresso.  But alas, this is not all about food.

Cool-ish weather the last few days (with ominous dark clouds at times), had us opt for a hike around Salerno on Sunday.  We visited the grand hotels (once palaces) along the “gold coast” of Ravello and ended in the magnificent gardens of the Hotel Cimbrone, the perfect stage set for the wedding that was to take place there.  We hiked to the outer reaches of the town, passing organic vegetable patches, grape arbors, and olive trees.  We saw hanging “cucuzza” (slender green squashes 3 feet long) which we ate stuffed and steamed one evening (and stuffed, fried and doused in tomato sauce on another.)  Day turned into night and the small piazza in the center of Ravello feels smart with tourists (hardly any Americans) who come for the music festival each summer.  In the evening, one may roam the gardens of the Hotel Rufolo and visit the tiny museum with its curated show of famous fashions from the opera.  (I am reminded of a time decades ago in Florence when Arthur Schwartz and I were guests for dinner in the home of “Biki” – the couturier of Maria Callas.)

Perchance to sleep and then a beautiful drive to Salerno – a real city with a sprawling University, the magnificent Duomo di San Matteo, and the Giardino della Minerva, which we visited in honor of my friend, Dale Bellisfield, clinical herbalist and health care practitioner.  Circa 1305, the garden of Minerva is the oldest botanical garden in the Western world and the model upon which all European gardens were developed. One of the plants was the extraordinary “rucola” (arugula) which we have been eating, and it tastes nothing like the arugula we have come to know in the states.  Rubbed between our fingers, the earthy, verdant perfume lasted all day.

A ferry ride to Amalfi:  The flakiest, crunchiest sfogliatelle filled with pastry cream at Pasticceria Pansa (doing business since 1830), and a quick dinner of alici (anchovies) in the style of Amalfi – lightly fried and “glued” with a bit of cheese.  My husband loved them as he did the provolo – smoked cheese grilled between large lemon leaves.  For dessert?   Chocolate eggplant. But more about that later. Ciao, ciao.