“Mulignane a fungetiello” is Neapolitan dialect for the Italian “melanzane a funghetto”, which means “aubergines mushroom-style” and it is one of the most popular, traditional and best ways of cooking aubergines: the aubergines are either shallow or deep fried and are then stewed with garlic (never onion) and either parsley or basil or oregano or mint; one could also make the dish a little richer by adding tomatoes, capers and black olives, but I prefer the basic version where the aubergine is allowed to shine. The aubergines are called “a funghetto/mushroom-style” because they are cooked in the way mushrooms are commonly prepared in Italy (quickly fried in oil, garlic and, generally, parsley) and also because they indeed end up resembling cooked mushrooms – little bronzed morsels glistening with oil and speckled with green, herbal flakes.
The recipe that follows comes originally from a much loved book: La Cucina Napoletana, by Carola Francesoni, but it should really be thought of as a flexible reference – nothing prescriptive here… well, almost. One rule I urge you not to break is to let the dish rest for a few hours before eating – this does improve the flavour immensely. I would make mulignane a fungetiello in the morning for the evening. Any leftovers are great panino material.
A couple of observations: first of all, signora Francesconi suggests you need a “frying pan-full” of olive oil (she says: “una padella”). I love this generic and yet precise expression: it means a lot, and you will definitely need a lot of oil because the aubergines are cooked in such a way as to be in between shallow and deep frying (see the video at the end, from the wonderful Mimmo Corcione). Secondly: what oil to use? Extra-virgin, for sure: the taste of the oil is an essential part of the dish (nothing fancy though, it would be wasted here: I generally use an organic Italian extra-virgin of medium range).
Mulignane a fungetiello – fried and stewed aubergines
Aubergines 2 kg
Oil: a lot
a couple of cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
A generous handful of chopped parsley or basil or oregano or mint:
If you wish:
4 or 5 peeled firm, fresh tomatoes, cut up (San Marzano, ideally: firm, meaty and not at all watery)
A handful of stoned black olives
A couple of tablespoons of capers, rinsed
Wash and cube the aubergines, roughly 3 cm per side. Salt them and leave them to degorge for a few hours. Rinse, drain, squeeze them dry and drop them on a towel. Leave them for at least one hour to dry in the air – the more dry they are, the better they will fry.
Use a large frying pan and be prepared to fry in batches. Warm up the oil and when shimmering, fry the aubergines till golden. Remove them with a spider and tip them into a colander placed above a bowl. Leave the aubergines for one hour, to release as much oil as possible.
Use some of this rendered oil to stew the aubergines, adding a couple of tablespoons to the same frying pan, alongside the garlic.Warm up the oil on medium flame and let the garlic take a pale golden colour. Remove it, raise the heat and add the chosen chopped herbs. Stir it around and add the aubergines. Give them now a good stir, lower the heat to minimum, cover and stew the lot for about 20 minutes.
Let it rest. Add more chopped herbs before serving.
If you want to make the richer version, you can either follow the tradition and add the tomatoes, the capers and the olives when you stew the aubergines or you can do what I do and add them when the aubergines have stewed and cooled down a little – this will give you a fresher, lighter finish.
check how the wonderful Mimmo Corcione prepares his aubergines: