Mulinciani‘mbuttunati (Buttoned up aubergines, a.k.a stuffed Sicilian aubergines)

Stuffed aubergines img_0892A delicious, “culinary joke” from Sicily. Mulinciani ‘mbuttunati is a typical summer dish of whole aubergines cooked in tomato sauce, with a twist though. A deep slit is made into the aubergine belly (turning it into a “button hole”) and the usual suspects of much Southern Italian cooking are inserted into it, garlic, pecorino cheese, basil/mint (the “buttons”). Here you have it: buttoned up aubergines!

This is a simple but rather lengthy dish to cook, however it keeps remarkably well, in fact it even improves with time – so make a big batch and enjoy it over few days.


Mulinciani‘mbuttunati/Buttoned up aubergines, a.k.a stuffed Sicilian aubergines
4 portions

Tinned whole plum tomatoes – 2 x 400 g cans
Basil leaves – a small handful. You need basil for the tomato sauce, for the aubergines and some just before serving
Aubergines – 4 medium-sized
Garlic – 3  or 4 cloves, slivered
Caciocavallo/Provolone/Pecorino Romano Cheese – 50 g approx, in slivers + extra for grating
Extra virgin olive oil – be generous

First prepare the tomato sauce. Pour the tomatoes into a squat pan and squash them with your hands (alternatively, cut them up when they are still in the tin, using scissors – less fun though). Add a glug of olive oil, a knob of butter (this would be heresy to many Southern Italy cooks, but it adds a welcome sweetness), some salt and few basil leaves. Thirty minutes at a lazy simmer should be enough, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile prep the aubergines. Wash them, leave the green top on (for the look), cut a deep slit into the belly of each one and gently pry it open a bit – you can be a bit rough here, but the aubergine must remain whole.

Push down each slit a few slivers of garlic and cheese, some basil and a little salt. The more of this stuffing that goes inside, the better.

Generously oil a large pan and place the aubergines in a single layer. Cook on low (partially covered) until the aubergines soften and collapse a little, 30-40 minutes approximately, turning them from time to time.

Add the tomato sauce and simmer for 45-60 minutes, partially covered. In the end the aubergines must be very tender at their thickest point. Breaking with Sicilian tradition, grate some cheese all over – think “snow”.

Let it rest for at least half an hour before eating – most aubergine dishes are much better at room temperature and benefit from a good rest. Drizzle some olive oil & scatter some extra basil leaves on top.
The next day it is even better, warmed up in a very slow oven until barely warm.


On the tomato sauce: I use Italian San Marzano canned tomatoes whenever possible (they can be hard to get hold of). San Marzano tomatoes are more expensive than other plum tomatoes, but they are also sweeter and more succulent – worth every extra penny. Make sure you buy “San Marzano tomatoes”, not just a generic “Italian plum tomatoes”. If you are lucky enough to be living in a sun-drenched land where gorgeous, juicy tomatoes are grown, use them of course (and envious I will be).

You might want to add mint to this dish – it’s traditional but not to my taste.

I have seen recipes in which the stuffed aubergines are first deep fried and then simmered in the tomato sauce.

Rinsed capers could be added to the sauce towards the end of cooking – easy with the salt.

Leftovers can be used as a pasta sauce by chopping up the aubergines; they also make fantastic sandwich filling (a Good Fellas sort of sandwich). In both cases, a few chunks (blobs?) of buffalo mozzarella would be a wise addition.

18 thoughts on “Mulinciani‘mbuttunati (Buttoned up aubergines, a.k.a stuffed Sicilian aubergines)

    1. Ciao Stefan… I am not a great meat eater BUT I could have braciole every week! 🙂 … If u google around you will find variations of the same theme of whole, stuffed aubergines (and not just in Italy actually)
      speak u soon and thanks for the comment, ciao, stefano

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Made it and will be blogging soon. I’ve checked multiple recipes and mint seems to be a very constant ingredient so I did use it. Although I used only 3 mint leaves per aubergine, it had such a big impact on the flavor profile that I’d say that your version without mint is quite different. It was really good and I will definitely make it again!


  1. This sounds like a great dish, Stefano. I, too, have never heard of a stuffed eggplant being simmered and I like the idea. I had to smile when I got to your last statement about the leftovers. While I read the recipe, my mind immediately went to leftovers, with pasta and sandwiches both coming to mind. As for the San Marzano tomatoes, here there are plenty of imposters, many of which will have “San Marzano” in the name in an attempt to mislead. One brand even says “Certified” and only a careful reading of the small print will reveal that they do their own certification. Nice, eh? I look for “DOP” on the label to be sure. I want to be sure I get what I pay for.


    1. Hi John. You make a good point: I have forgotten to say that true Italian San Marzano should always have the DOP logo on the tin. I have read a lot of good things about the Agrigenus San Marzano, now imported in the UK (and US).


  2. Intriguing dish. The ingredients may well be the usual suspects, but I’ve never come across a recipe that simmers whole eggplants before… Will have to give it a go.


      1. Finally made it last night and it was very tasty.

        I used very small, long eggplants, so that may have changed the result a bit, as there was no discernible stuffing, it seemed to have melded into the eggplant and sauce, perhaps because the pocket had to be quite small, or perhaps this happens in any case?


  3. melanzane italiane = sode, ruspanti
    melanzane extracomunitarie = made in Holland probabilmente, falsamente sode, chiaramente artificiali


    1. Purtroppo solo melanzane made in Holland sono reperibili da questa parte. La prima volta che avevo usato melanzane italiane, in Italia, dovevo imparare a cucinarle da capo.


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