Mark Leslie’s Polpette di Melanzane

Le Polpette di Melanzane, close up

The following recipe is from Mark Leslie’s book, Beyond the Pasta, Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family.   This is a recipe you want to make when you have plenty of time to do the work ahead, and it is worth it for a dinner party, or for favorite eggplant aficionados.

Chopped and salted eggplant

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mark when he was in town as part of a book promotion dinner with The Book Shelf and The Blue Heron Coffeehouse, and chatting with him about cooking, and chatting in Italian.  The links above will do a better job than I can describing the book, and Mark, who’s an entertaining storyteller, and an excellent stage manager.

The eggplant, soaking, under a plate to keep it submerged. (Not required by Mark)

Una polpetta (singular of le polpette), is the Italian term for meatball.  In this case, the “meatballs”  have no meat, as they are made of eggplant (melanzane).  It’s a great recipe to make for appetizers, or to put with pasta.  When we had them with Mark, they were served with a simple tomato sauce.

The eggplant, after cooking, weighting, draining and cooling

Soaked, squeezed and torn bread

Rolled and Ready for Frying

Polpette di Melanzane

Yield : about 32 polpette, 6 to 8 servings


  • large pot (6 quarts, minimum)
  • chef’s knife
  • paring knife
  • cutting board
  • measuring spoons
  • small bowl
  • large bowl
  • frying pan or Dutch oven
  • tongs or slotted spoon or skimmer
  • Microplane or other fine cheese grater
  • large spoon or spatula
  • colander
  • plate


  • 3.5 to 4 lbs. eggplant (perhaps 3 large)
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 slices Italian bread (1/2 inch slices of a Tuscan boule, or similar bread)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup plain dried bread crumbs, plus a little more, if needed
  • Sunflower oil, or your favorite frying oil


  1. Peel the eggplants, slice them into 1/2 inch rounds, and then 1/2 inch cubes.  Put the eggplant into the large 6-quart pot.  Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of salt, and stir, so that the salt coats all the eggplant pieces.  Pour in enough water to cover the eggplant by two inches.  Let the eggplant soak in the water for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  (I covered the eggplant with a plate to keep it submerged, as mine kept floating up.)
  2. After the eggplant has soaked for an hour, (remove the plate, if you did as I did) place the pot over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.  Boil the eggplant until it is thoroughly cooked, at least 10 minutes.
  3. Drain the eggplant into a colander, and squeeze out the excess water by placing a plate on top of the eggplant cubes and weigh it down with a can of tomatoes, or a heavy pot.  The idea is to get as much water out of the eggplant as possible.  Let the eggplant drain until it is cool.  (This may take a while)
  4. While the eggplant is cooling, put the bread slices in a bowl and cover them with water.  Weigh the bread down with a saucer to keep it submerged.  Let it soak this way for 5 to 10 minutes.   Squeeze the water out of the bread slices with your hands.  Tear the bread slices into small pieces into a large bowl.
  5. Add the cooled eggplant to the large bowl and bread pieces, along with the grated cheese, garlic, parsley, eggs, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Mix well. If the mixture is too soft to form into balls, add a little bit of dried bread crumbs, and mix.
  6. Form the eggplant mixture into 1 inch balls, and roll each ball (polpetta)  in the bread crumbs, to coat.
  7. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet or Dutch Oven, over medium heat.  In batches,  brown the polpette on all sides, about 4 to 6 minutes.  Place on paper towels to drain.   While still warm, sprinkle with salt to taste, and serve.
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2 Responses to Mark Leslie’s Polpette di Melanzane

  1. mark leslie says:

    Jennifer, had a terrific time, too. That was a very special evening. Love that you featured the eggplant recipe. I think it is the coolest one in the book…and one that people might consider to be difficult. It isn’t, but there are several steps involved – totally worth it! Ciao e a presto~ M

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the comments, Mark! Let me know if you need more pancetta. Cheers.

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