Aubergine with Dark Chocolate: A Bittersweet Surprise From the Amalfi Coast
Italian food can often offer unexpected surprises and certainly is never dull. It is also extremely varied throughout the country; so varied that it would be difficult even to say that there is one type of Italian cuisine. What there is instead is an ensemble of cuisines, one for each region. Until 1871 Italy was a series of republics, kingdoms, and dukedoms governed by different people, French, Austrians, Spanish, and Arabs who gave their traditions and ingredients.
That is why in the South one finds dishes that recalls the flavours of Spain, Morocco, the Middle East so different from what most people think of Italian food.
I was surprised and intrigued the first time I heard during our honeymoon in the Amalfi Coast about aubergine with dark chocolate. I remember my eyebrows furrowing and my lips curling. But curiosity got the better. I had to try it. Finding it though was not that easy. Only a few patisseries in Maiori (a village near Amalfi) make it and the limited opening hours in the Summer, given the high temperatures thus forced siestas. We waited patiently and went back when instructed to succeed and return to our little seaside flat with a tray of what looked like dark brown lasagne. What a pleasant discovery when we immersed our spoons in it! The bitterness of dark chocolate marries perfectly with the sweetness of fried and baked aubergines with dark sugar and candied orange peels.
I was so fascinated that I had to do some research about the history behind the dish. It seems that the Sisters of Santa Maria della Misericordia near Naples cultivated aubergines and decided to turn them into a sweet treat by mixing them with sugar, chocolate, and candied peels. When the Russian tsar Nikolas II’s niece gave birth to her son while visiting Campania, the Augustinians nuns brought a basket full of typical products to the new mother, including the aubergines with chocolate: this pudding made the woman “crazy”. The delicious recipe was then donated to the local pastry makers, becoming part of the culinary tradition of both the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento Coast.
If you want to impress your guests like me I would highly recommend this recipe which having only four main ingredients makes it all the more attractive!
Recipe is for 6-8 people
Slice the aubergines and cover them with sugar. Sprinkle off the sugar and fry them in abundant vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Dry the slices on kitchen paper and set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl on top of a pot with boiling water (make sure the bowl with the chocolate does not touch the water). Remove from the heat and once slightly cool add the sugar and mix well to ensure the sugar dissolves.
In a separate bowl make a cream with the cocoa with a couple of spoons of lukewarm water and making sure there are no lumps add this to the melted chocolate. Mix well.
In a serving tray put a couple of chocolate sauce on the bottom and then start layering your dish. Aubergines, chocolate sauce, scattered candied peels and almonds. Repeat this three times until completion of all the ingredients to finish with a layer of chocolate sauce on top of which you will distribute the rest of the shaved almonds.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 180C and then once cool keep in the fridge for at least an hour.
Enjoy it with a glass of sweet wine or sherry.