I would rank this among the ‘epitome section’ of home-made dishes. And by that, I mean that I would not expect to see it offered on any restaurant menu. A quiet pride at their core made up of unsophisticated and bold statement-making flavour(s), the ‘barchette di melanzane’, i.e. “little aubergine boats”, are the kind of summer dish that only a Mamma would make for her family. It does take patience, for one thing. My own mamma never made these but my mother-in-law did.
We were visiting my husbands’ parents who spend their summers in a small town in the Marche, called Monterubbiano. Very sadly, my mother-in-law is now incapable of cooking anything because she has Alzheimers and her version of reality has already gone beyond the slippery edge of mixed-up reasoning. She still recognizes us and that is a boon and when she sees me preparing for a meal asks me whether I could do with some help. I make her peel garlic or potatoes, or slice tomatoes – that sort of thing. Funny how ‘manually’ speaking she is still capable of some things. Conversation, however, can veer off into pockets of the absurd that might have inspired Beckett, and repetition is the least of it. All ill health is tragic but some diseases are more tragic than others.
This recipe, the aubergine boats, used to be one of her summer specialities, that my husband remembers with the fondness of a grateful son. Now she can’t even remember making them. I had never made them before and I expect there are other versions out there that are easier or better to make but here we go anyway.
Aubergines/egg plants, minced meat, onion, garlic, parsely, tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese
Silly things first: turn the oven on, put a pot of water to boil, arm yourself with some patience – depending on which time of day make yourself some coffee or tea or else pour yourself a glass of wine.
Begin my cooking the minced meat with a little olive oil.
While it’s cooking, cut the two aubergines in half and use a sharp knife to diagonally cut the inside of the half into diamond-like shapes – as in the photo above. Be careful not to reach the bottom of the aubergine otherwise you’ll cut that too.
Spoon out the cut chunks of aubergine. This is not quite as easy as it looks by the way, be prepared.
Brown an onion with some olive oil.
Three things going on here at the same time: (1) the meat is cooking, (2) the onions are browning and (3) the aubergine halves are being dunked in boiling salted water for only a minute or so, to soften them.
Add some parsely to the onions.
Then add the chunks of aubergine.
Add the meat and some tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro).
I decided it needed some garlic too – and extra parsely. Make sure to taste and season accordingly (salt and pepper, maybe a little bit more olive oil even).
All this didn’t take very long and is quite an ‘intuitive’ approach to cooking minced meat in a tomato sauce – think lasagna for instance.
I had to wait for the aubergine halves to cool down – and they were very ‘floppy’. It was at this point that I asked my mother-in-law to help me – and she did. By spooning the sauce into the aubergine ‘boats’.
Here she is. As you can see, we sprinkled some parmesan over the boats before placing them in the previously heated oven.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes at a temperature of 200°C.
They can be eaten at room temperature – in fact, even better. Here they are served the following day.