A day spent on a boat exploring hidden beaches, or strolling through the shady lanes of an Amalfi Coast seaside town, tends to build a certain appetite. But so often, when you’re kicking back of an evening with friends, watching the sun set the sea on fire out to the west, cradling an aperitivo, enjoying the buzz of conversation, you want to keep things simple, local, seasonal. A plate of oysters, tuna tartare, some grilled vegetables, a caprese salad, a really good hamburger.
This is what Aldo’s Bar is all about. Born from an idea of Franco Sersale, Le Sirenuse’s tutelary arbiter of taste, this al fresco space on the fourth-floor terrace of what was once the Sersale family villa began life around the turn of the millennium as the Champagne Bar. In 2020, it was rechristened Aldo’s, in honour of Franco’s brother, a great bon viveur who liked nothing better than diving for sea urchins from his boat, the Sant’Antonio, and offering them to his friends paired with the very best champagne.
One of the greatest hits on the Aldo’s menu is a refined spin on a Neapolitan street food classic, polpettine di melanzane, or parmesan-enriched eggplant/aubergine balls, fried in breadcrumbs. Served in a classic twist of greaseproof yellow paper, these succulent bite-sized snacks are difficult to resist – especially when dipped in the caramel tomato sauce they are served with.
Created by Aldo’s chef Antonello Esposito and Le Sirenuse executive chef Gennaro Russo, these polpettine are not at all difficult to make at home, Antonello tells the Sirenuse Journal. Here, by popular demand, is the recipe, coaxed from him one sunny afternoon in Positano before the evening rush. Oh, and her’s one curious addendum. Ever since we first tasted these more-ish snacks, we have been convinced that the tomato sauce they are served with had a sprinkle of peperoncinoin it to spice it up. Not so, Antonello reveals: that piccante note is provided by the sherry vinegar.
- 6 long purple eggplants
- 100g (3.5oz, a little less than 1 cup) white breadcrumbs
- 85g (30z) freshly grated parmesan
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1 egg
- 2tbs olive oil
- a handful of basil leaves, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 4 eggs
- 300g (10.5oz) white breadcrumbs
- 100g (3.5oz) white flour
- Enough peanut oil to deep fry 16 eggplant balls
Caramel tomato sauce
- 700g granular tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro)
- 100g cane sugar
- 50g water
- 50g sherry vinegar
- a handful of basil leaves, finely chopped
You may want to begin with the tomato sauce. First, make a clear caramel sauce by heating the sugar on a low heat, stirring constantly, in a large pan, until just melted. Meanwhile, bring the water to simmer in another saucepan suitable for pouring. When the sugar has melted, add the boiling water in small doses, stirring constantly between each addition. You’re aiming for a pale gold colour – if the caramel browns, it will become bitter. When all the water has been absorbed, add the sherry vinegar, bring the caramel back to the boil and let the liquids evaporate for five minutes or so, taking care once more that the caramel stays light and golden (turn down the heat if necessary). Now add the tomato sauce, throw in the chopped basil leaves, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for half an hour. Leave to cool and set aside until ready to use.
Now move on to the eggplant balls. Begin by soaking the breadcrumbs in a little milk for half an hour or so. Afterwards, drain in a colander, squeezing the milk out with your hand or the underside of a bowl.
Wash the eggplants, peel them, then cut into large chunks and throw into a pan of boiling water, salted to taste, for around 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and squeeze them to release excess water (you may want to squash them between two breadboards, leaving a weight on top). While they are drying out, throw the two tomatoes into the boiling water, their skins scored with a knife to make them easy to peel. After a few minutes, remove, peel, and take the seeds out, leaving only the red tomato flesh, which should be finely diced.
Combine the eggplant with the breadcrumbs, the diced tomato, the egg (roughly whipped a little beforehand with a fork), the grated parmesan, the olive oil and the chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir to amalgamate.
Make a polpettina assembly line by putting the flour, four eggs (roughly whipped) and breadcrumbs in three shallow bowls. Heat the peanut oil to 180°C (356°F). Form the eggplant mixture into bite-sized balls (see photo) and roll first in the flour, then dip in the egg, then coat with breadcrumbs, and drop into the hot oil. Each should deep-fry for around 4 minutes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon onto absorbent paper.
Serve in paper cones, 4 or 5 balls in each, with the tomato sauce on the side.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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