Based on the southern Italian dish Melanzane Parmigiana, this recipe substitutes battered slices of giant puffball for the classic aubergines. It takes a little time to prepare, but the silky, tender puffball layered with the spicy tomato sauce and melting mozzarella is delicious.
- 500g giant puffball
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 fat cloves garlic, finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- Small handful basil leaves, plus extra to serve
- 2 × 400g cans Italian plum tomatoes
- 350g mozzarella cheese
- 100g plain flour
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Clean the surface of the puffball with a brush and dampened kitchen paper, paying particular attention to the bumps around the base, which can harbour mud and moss. Cut the puffball into manageable chunks, then into 1cm-thick slices and set aside. If the skin is thick and tough or very damaged or dirty, trim it off and discard.
- To make the sauce, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan. Add the sliced garlic, chilli flakes and some torn basil leaves. Cook gently until the garlic turns pale gold, then add the canned tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon, then simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes while you prepare the puffball. Taste for seasoning towards the end of cooking.
- Remove the mozzarella from its packaging and drain it well. Leave it to sit on a couple of sheets of kitchen paper while you prepare the puffball.
- Put the flour into a shallow bowl and crack in the eggs. Whisk them together until smooth, then add 2 tablespoons of Parmesan and 3 tablespoons of water.
- Set your widest frying pan over a medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the base of the pan.
When the oil is hot, dip a slice of puffball into the batter. Drain off the excess, then put the battered puffball slice into the hot oil. Repeat with further slices of puffball until you have a panful. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown, then remove to plate lined with kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining puffball slices.
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Lightly oil a 2-litre roasting pan or lasagna dish. Arrange a layer of puffball slices in the bottom of the dish, then spread over half of the tomato sauce. Thinly slice the mozzarella and arrange half in a layer over the top of the tomato sauce layer. Top with more puffball slices, sauce and mozzarella. Top with the remaining puffball slices, scatter with parmesan and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the parmesan is golden brown and the parmigiana is bubbling.
- Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving warm from the dish, scattered with fresh basil.
Make sure that your puffball is pure white throughout before you cook it. The flesh turns yellow as the mushroom matures – if any yellowing is visible, the puffball should not be eaten.