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Fried Pecorino with Spicy Eggplant and Peppers

(from Piatto Unico, by Toni Lydecker 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 3 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 or 4 small purple or lavender eggplants about 1 pound, trimmed
  • 1 large yellow or red bell pepper
  • 1 large onion trimmed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 ripe large tomato diced
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup unflavored dried fine breadcrumbs or as needed
  • 8 ounces youngsemi-soft, flavorful cheese such as Tuscan pecorino, Fontina Valle d’Aosta or imported provolone

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Peel the eggplants only if the skins are thick or tough; cut in 1/4-inch slices. Cut the peppers in short strips; slice the onion pole to pole in thin wedges.
  2. Divide the vegetables between 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle generously with olive oil (about 1/4 cup); sprinkle with salt and, more cautiously, with red pepper flakes. Mix well with your hands and spread out the vegetables.  Roast for about 20 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned.  Stir in the tomato; turn off the heat, leaving the pans in the oven.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg in a shallow bowl. Place the bread crumbs in a similar-sized bowl. Cut the cheese in 6 wedges or rectangles (a larger cheese could be cut in 3 equal wedges). Coat the top and bottom surfaces first with egg, and then breadcrumbs. Repeat these steps to form a fairly thick crust.
  4. Meanwhile, in a skillet just large enough to hold the cheese wedges, heat a generous quantity of olive oil (about 1/4 cup) over medium heat. After testing the oil with a pinch of breadcrumbs to make sure it is hot enough, fry the cheese wedges until well browned, about 20 seconds; turn and brown on the other side (do not cook to the point that the cheese begins to melt or you will have a mess on your hands!). Remove to a platter.
  5. For each serving: Arrange 2  fried cheese wedges in a wide, shallow bowl or dinner plate; surround with the roasted vegetables.

Recipe Notes

Variation: Add 2 tablespoons ground toasted almonds or pine nuts to the breadcrumbs before coating the cheese. Alternatively, flavor the breadcrumbs with ¼ teaspoon dried thyme or an Italian herb blend (do not use one that contains salt and other seasonings).