Aug 04 2010

Frankies Eggplant Marinara

In full disclosure, I've yet to go to Frankies Spuntino or Prime Meats, though I have been to Café Pedlar numerous times (which should count for something by association!).  When moving to Brooklyn was just a twinkle in our eyes, I had already read about (and lusted over) Frankies Spuntino.  Lusted over it so much that on our quick visit to Brooklyn, we walked from Downtown Brooklyn to Frankies and back…just to look at the outside of the restaurant!

There—I’m done with disclaimers.  Despite having not eaten at their restaurants yet (the two Frankies Spuntino locations are in Carroll Gardens and the Lower East Side; Prime Meats is in Carroll Gardens), I’m an adamant supporter of their restaurants, not only because of the restaurants’ neighborhood focus but for how instrumental the Franks are in the current shift (and now trend) of cooking simple food with quality ingredients.

The Franks = Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo.  Both have French culinary backgrounds, have worked with all star chefs like David Bouley and Charlie Palmer, and separately ran their own restaurants (including Moomba and Bistro Jean-Claude).

According to The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual, in 2003, both Franks were at a cross-roads of sorts.  They were exhausted from their years in intense kitchens and sought a return to their roots, their Italian-American roots.  What resulted was the creation and opening of Frankies Spuntino (meaning a snack or place to eat them), which was soon followed by the Lower East Side location and most recently Prime Meats.  Along the way, the Franks have partnered with some seriously amazing small and local food purveyors and artisans, including Saxelby Cheesemongers and Stumptown Coffee.

Their food, as evident in their cookbook, is inspired by nostalgia and reinvented by cutting-edge sourcing and quality ingredients.

Last week, after my visit to Stokes Farm, I came home with three beautiful eggplants and immediately knew how I was going to cook them. One of the most popular dishes at Frankies Spuntino is the Eggplant Marinara.  Ingredients needed:  eggplant, olive oil, sea salt, tomato sauce, Pecorino Romano, and fresh mozzarella.  Even with my addition of spaghetti, my shopping list was short and sweet.

The Franks cook their tomato sauce for four hours and bake the eggplant for 3 ½ hours.  I started this dinner at 4 pm and had no interest in eating at 11 pm.  Thankfully, this cookbook is as laid back as their restaurants and offers a ‘quick eggplant fix’.  Instead of simmering my tomato sauce for 4 hours, I simmered it for an hour and a half.  Instead of baking the eggplant marinara for 3 ½ hours, I baked it for 2 hours.  It was still a late dinner, but we weren’t dining at midnight!

After 2 hours of baking, the eggplant marinara was so rich, so flavorful, and so decadent that I’m not sure how an additional 2-3 hours would have made it any better.   It’s rare that Justin and I are THIS silent around a plate of food, but in this case, our taste buds were dictating conversation.  All we could mutter was ‘mmm’ and ‘wow’.  The cheese, eggplant and marinara blended together in slightly caramelized perfection; it was impossible to separate the cheese from the eggplant.  The eggplant marinara coated our spaghetti with a light oil, blending with the pasta perfectly.  Each bite was delicious.  And here’s the thing:  this was one of the easiest recipes I’ve prepared, which isn’t a knock on the cookbook or the recipe, but rather complete respect for the Franks' mastery of this recipe and their willingness to share it in their cookbook.

The only stipulation with this recipe is that you have to be willing to run your oven for upwards of 4 hours.  On an incredibly hot day, you might not want to do that.  So wait until the temperature cools off, pick up some fresh eggplant at the farmers market, and bake this.

I plan on going to Frankies Spuntino sometime soon and I’ll probably order the eggplant marinara.  After all, they are the master chefs and I’d like to taste their creation!

Homemade Tomato Sauce

courtesy of Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual

*makes 3 cups


-4 cloves of garlic

-1/2 cup olive oil

-1 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

-pinch of red pepper flakes

-teaspoon of salt


1) Combine garlic with olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden and fragrant. Keep the heat low.

2) Pour the can of tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hands. Pour the tomatoes and a pinch of the red pepper flakes into the saucepan, along with the salt.

3) Turn the heat to medium and simmer for as long as possible.

Eggplant Marinara

courtesy of Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual


-3 large eggplant (3 pounds or so), peeled in vertical strips, leaving alternating strips of skin, and then sliced into 1/2 inch thick disks

-1/4 cup olive oil

-sea salt and ground white pepper (or black pepper)

-3 cups tomato sauce

-3 cups grated Pecorino Romano

-1/2 ball fresh mozzarella (8 ounces), cut into 1/4 inch thick slices


1) Start to simmer the tomato sauce (see above).

2) About 45-50 minutes into making the sauce, heat oven to 350. Toss the sliced eggplant with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl, making sure the eggplant is evenly coated. Arrange the slices in a single layer on two baking sheets.

3) Bake the eggplant for 20-25 minutes, until they are mottled in parts and deeply browned in others (beginning to shrink away from their skin). Remove from the oven.

4) Finish simmering the tomato sauce to your liking.

5) Coat the bottom of a medium roasting pan (or lasagna dish) with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Put a single layer of eggplant on top of the sauce, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and coat with Pecorino. Repeat until all the ingredients are used (sauce, eggplant, Pecorino), finishing with a layer of cheese.

6) Cover pan with foil and bake as long as possible (up to 3 1/2 hours).

7) Serve eggplant marinara with a layer of mozzarella on top of the dish.