The inspiration for this recipe came from the book Artisan Cheesemaking at Home, which is a FABULOUS way to get hooked on a new hobby. Before I even started making my own cheese, though, I had to try this recipe. The only problem was that I didn’t have most of the ingredients it called for, and rather than run to the store, I ran to my garden. The results were fabulous.
The first ingredient you need is smoked mozzarella. A decent cheese shop will have this, but if you can’t find it, you can smoke your own. Traditionally, aged or low-moisture mozzarella (rather than the soft, fresh stuff) is used, but you can smoke fresh mozz, too. (I did for this recipe.) I stuck it in the farthest corner of my offset smoker (as far from the heat as possible) and just lit a few small oak sticks in the firebox and let it go for 20 minutes. There are ways to smoke in your grill and on your stovetop…Google is your friend. Ultimately, the smoke does contribute a critical flavor to these fritters, but if you just can’t find smoked mozz and you don’t wanna go to the trouble of smoking your own, just use regular mozzarella, fresh or low-moisture. You can also substitute smoked gouda, which is widely available. Just realize that both fresh mozz and smoked gouda don’t melt as beautifully as low-moisture mozz.
Your next choice is whether to make these entree size or appetizer side. Entree size will be easier and you’ll only have to make a few, rather than dozens of small ones. If you choose the small size, you might look for fresh mozzarella pearls, because they are already the perfect size.
1 large eggplant, diced
Sprinkle the eggplant cubes with kosher salt and place them in a colander in the sink to drain for half an hour. This leaches out bitter juices. If you are using any other eggplant type than the traditional “Black Beauty” eggplants you find in every grocery store, this step is not necessary. Japanese, Indian, Thai, and Italian eggplants don’t need to be salted, because they don’t contain those bitter juices. If you follow this step, after 30 minutes, press the eggplant cubes firmly between double layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.
In a heavy skillet, saute the eggplant in olive oil, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned and cooked through. Remove the eggplant to a large bowl. Add more olive oil to the skillet and saute:
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, diced (I use cremini or portabello, which are actually the same mushroom in different stages of growth)
When the onion begins to take on some color around the edges, add:
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, chopped (or substitute pine nuts, pecans, or any nut)
splash of apple cider vinegar
Stir and cook for an additional minute, then remove the mixture to the bowl with the eggplant. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
In a separate bowl, combine:
1/2 cup parmigiano cheese, shredded
Stir the mixture into the veggies. Then add bread crumbs to the mixture until it thickens up and can be molded together…you’ll probably add about 1/2 a cup.
Prepare a breading station:
Onto a dinner plate, place:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Into a bowl, crack and scramble:
2 large eggs
Into a pie plate, combine:
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmigiano cheese
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
Now, form the fritters:
1/2 pound cheese (as mentioned above), cut into whatever size you want as the core of your fritter
Wrap a chunk of cheese generously in the veggie mixture. Drop onto the flour plate and roll the fritter around to get it covered in flour. Transfer to the egg wash and roll it around. Then transfer to the bread crumbs and get it covered.
Deep fry at 365F until the crumbs are nicely browned. Salt lightly when the fritters come out of the oil, and keep hot in a 200F oven until all the fritters are fried and ready to serve.
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