Thursday, November 02, 2006

Central Floridian Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant

It's easy to think Cajun or Creole on this one. Central Floridian is about the tiny shrimp we were once able to source frozen live in blocks of ice from waters along Florida's East Central Coast. Whether stuffed eggplant, squash, or pirogues circling the Gulf from anywhere in Florida well into Texas: this is the best version we're aware of.

Truth be known, it's basically---and pretty much duplicated here except for the kind of shrimp used---a Florida Panhandle dish from The Florida Cookbook, a 1993 masterpiece by Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart. We are grateful to all concerned for this cookbook, which delivers wonderful recipes and describes Florida as "where the story of American food began and where today (1993) one can find the most interesting culinary diversity in the USA." It was written when what the authors described as "New Wave" cooking was rapidly taking hold in Florida, following trends set in California, that exploited an abundance of unique fresh local ingredients available year round. The Florida Cookbook offers the best of what preceded the new wave. I like to think of it as "Classic Florida cuisine."

We are also grateful to Flickr user "JeannieBL," whose site on Flickr suggests she's from Denmark. She spotted my photograph and requested the recipe. It was exactly the needed nudge toward a post for which the time couldn't be more ripe.

While The Florida Cookbook calls for using 1/2 pound of large shrimp, shelled and cleaned, our kitchen discovered a premier use for those wonderful tiny shrimp we used to get. No need for them to be frozen in blocks of ice, as long as they're reasonably fresh. The only downside is having to spend ten times as long to peel ten times as many shrimp.

1 large eggplant ( 1 1/2 lb.)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons butter
1/2 pound very small raw shrimp (shelled)
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
hot pepper sauce to taste
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, then remove flesh leaving a shell 1/2 inch thick. Chop the eggplant flesh and set aside. Immerse the shells, skin side up, in a bowl of water until ready to fill. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet, add the shrimp and saute until pink (a matter of seconds). Remove the shrimp and set aside. Add the onion, parsley, thyme, and oregano, and saute gently, stirring constantly. Add the chopped eggplant, then the tomato, water, salt, and pepper. Mix well, cover tightly, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the hot pepper sauce. Place the eggplant shells, hollow side up, in a lightly oiled shallow baking pan. Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs in the bottom of each shell, then fill with alternate layers of the eggplant mixture and crumbs, ending with the crumbs. Dot with the remaining 2 teaspoons of butter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crumbs are browned. Serve immediately.
Serves 2
Inspired by The Florida Cookbook by Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1993