PAPOUTSAKIA ("LITTLE SHOES")
Time preparation: 45 mins
· 6 fairly small eggplants (6-7 inches long each)
· 1/2 pound ground beef
· 2 cloves of garlic, minced (if garlic is a problem, substitute with 2-3 scallions)
· 1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
· 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
· 2 cups (4-5 medium) of ripe peeled, cored tomatoes, very finely chopped (or canned or ripe roma tomatoes)
· 5-10 tablespoons of olive oil
· 1 cup of grated kefalotyri cheese (or pecorino or parmesan)
· 12 very thin slices of tomato
· 1 cup of basic béchamel (see below)
Wash and dry the eggplants, trim off stems, and cut in half, lengthwise. With a small knife or spoon, scoop out the pulp of the egglant, leaving a shell about 1/8 inch thick. Take care not to break through the skin of the eggplant.
Note: If you haven't done this before, take your time. The pulp will be chopped up and used in the filling, so it can come out a piece at a time.
· Using a spoon: scoop out seeds from the center and discard. Start at the center of the eggplant half and work your way outward.
· Using a knife: remove and discard seeds, then carefully slice around the edge, leaving a small layer of pulp next to the skin; continue to cut, moving in toward the center.
Chop the pulp and set it aside.
Preheat large frying pan (with cover) on low heat.
When the frying pan has preheated, increase the heat and sauté the onions (both types if you're using scallions instead of garlic) in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, using the frying pan that has the cover. When the onions soften and turn translucent (without browning), add the chopped eggplant pulp and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the ground beef and sauté until it starts to brown. Stir in tomatoes, parsley, garlic, pinches of salt and pepper (to taste), and reduce heat. Simmer covered for 20 minutes or until the sauce melds and the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
Make the béchamel sauce:
· 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
· 2 tablespoons of butter
· 1 cup slightly warm whole milk
· grated nutmeg
· 1 or 2 egg yolks
In a saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. As soon as it starts to bubble (not brown) add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until there are no lumps. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the sauce begins to thicken - creamy without being too thick (it will thicken further after removing from the heat). Remove from the heat and stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Allow the sauce to cool for a few minutes before stirring in the egg yolk until well blended.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Preheat second frying pan over low heat. Increase heat when ready to sauté the eggplant.
Lightly sauté the eggplant halves in olive oil in the second frying pan. Start with a little oil (3 tablespoons) but have more at hand since eggplant absorbs a lot of oil and the pan could dry out. This step is simply to soften the eggplant a bit, so sauté quickly on both sides, remove, and drain on a rack (do not wipe off the oil).
Place the eggplant halves on the bottom of a baking or roasting pan. Sprinkle some of the cheese to cover the bottom of the well in the eggplant, then spoon in the filling to the top of the side rims. Spoon over the béchamel sauce (about 1 tablespoon for each piece), and place a slice of tomato on top. When all the eggplants are finished, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top.
Cook on the lowest oven rack setting until the béchamel is browned, the cheese on top is browned, and the eggplants are soft, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the eggplants from the pan with a spatula and serve warm.