Photo from Always Hungry NY

So, I’m on a little vacation across the way in Italy, and we go out to dinner the first night there.  I’m thinking this is the hotel receptionists’ cousin or brother or something and that the food will be mediocre at best.  Not.

The place is a family place, but there are lots of locals, so that’s always a good sign.  The guys who run the restaurant are very friendly, and the menu is only in Italian — no English, no Spanish, no Russian (go figure).  Another good sign.  So my friend helps translate the menu and we enjoy a very nice relaxing meal in very comfortable surroundings.  And then they bring the dessert cart.  Yes, a dessert cart in an every day restaurant — now we’re talking REALLY good sign!

I use my best Italian to mime that if it ain’t chocolate, I’m not interested — is that a twinkle I see in his eye? So he grabs a plate and starts dishing something up.  “No, wait! I just want to know what you have!”  But he shushes me and explains via my friend that he just wants me to try it.

I’m going to refrain from showing you the actual photo that I took, because if you saw it, you’d turn up your nose.  But I couldn’t resist trying it.  It was rather squishy looking, but covered in chocolate.  I tasted.  “ZUCCHINI?” I blurted out — and he understood.  He loved it — “No, but very close.  It’s EGGPLANT!”

Surprise!  I added “And cinnamon?”

“Right again!”  He was grinning from ear to ear.

“So, dish it up! And, what is it called?”

He responded in Italian and I knew it was impossible for me to get it on paper.  So I grabbed my little red notebook and handed it over.  “Can you write the name for me, please?”

He pulled up a chair, and wrote out the whole recipe. I don’t speak a lick of Italian, but my friend (who does) looked on in wonder as Max explained in great detail how to prepare the eggplant, and I nodded knowingly.  I explained — “It’s the international language — of cooks, and chocolate!”

So here it is for you to try.  Trust me, even though it may not be photo worthy in the form I had it, it is most definitely worth your time to try it.

Oh, and his name is Max.  From Naples. I know, because he signed the recipe.

Melanzane al Cioccolato — Max’s Chocolate Eggplant

2 to 3    Small eggplants — sliced thin
12     Ounces of semi sweet chocolate, melted
4       Tablespoons of coarsely chopped pine nuts
1       Cup  Flour for dredging
2       Teaspoons cinnamon
1/4    Cup Sugar
1        Egg, beaten
6        Tablespoons of candied orange peel (optional)

Slice the eggplant very thin.
Mix flour with cinnamon and sugar (adjust to your preferences)
Dip each slice of eggplant in egg and then flour mixture and deep fry until golden brown.
Drain and let cool.

While the eggplant is cooling, slowly melt the chocolate in a double-boiler.
Mix in the nuts and orange.

Layer the eggplant in a medium size baking platter.
After the first layer is made, continue layering by alternating eggplant with chocolate.

Serve it to  your friends without telling them what it is — but make an effort to make it pretty on the plate.  Otherwise they won’t touch it!