“Oh, Wonderful!” Sicilian Eggplant

The Sicilian expression—although little known among contemporary Sicilians—sciàtara-e-màtara, is an exclamation of wonder–or contempt!  It might be said like “Oh, wonderful!” or contemptuously as in “God! Great merciful God!”  The expression derives from the Arabic shātirū yā mā tāra as in “oh, the cleverness that you see!” which Arabs say sarcastically when someone from whom you expect very little accomplishes something.  But it is also an expression of wonder since they accomplished it.  The Sicilians use this expression, which also means “buttocks,” to describe the taste of the eggplant, from which we expect so little.  But what about the “buttocks”?  Michele Pasqualino in his eighteenth-century dictionary suggests that the expression is a Sicilian euphemism for buttocks which this dish resembles…at least to the imaginative cook who originally named this preparation.  The laying of the matching slices of eggplant on top of one another to form the sandwiches is called a chiappa in Sicilian dialect, meaning “like buttocks” which the Sicilian food authority Pino Correnti says comes from the Old Provençal word meaning to open then compress.   The nineteenth-century lexicographer, Antonino Traina, in his Sicilian dictionary Nuovo vocabolario Siciliano-Italiano published in 1868 explains the term as meaning “container of farts.”  If you cut each sandwich in half you can make 30 pieces for cocktail servings. This recipe comes from Avola in the province of Syracuse.

I usually cut the finished sandwiches in half and serve them on a platter on a buffet table.

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Eggplant
Cuisine: Sicilian
Serves: 14
  • 3 eggplants (about 3 pounds), peeled and sliced ⅝ inch thick, keeping the slices together to make sandwiches later
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Dry bread crumbs for dredging
  • Fresh mint leaves and chopped mint leaves for garnish
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour, whisking or stirring until a roux is formed but without letting it color. Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until the sauce is thick. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook, stirring until dense, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Spread a very thin layer of Béchamel sauce on each side of the eggplant, as if you were buttering bread. Don’t be tempted to slather it on or the taste will be overpowering and unpleasant. Grate a small amount of nutmeg over the Béchamel and lay the matching slice of eggplant on top to make a sandwich.
  3. Preheat the frying oil in a deep fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 360 degrees F.
  4. Pour the eggs in a bowl and spread the bread crumbs over a piece of wax paper or in a plate. Dip each eggplant sandwich in the egg then dredge in the bread crumbs, making sure all sides, including the edges, are coated with bread crumbs.
  5. Fry the sandwiches in the hot oil until golden brown on one side, then carefully turn them over using tongs and cook the other side, 3 to 4 minutes in all. Don’t cook too many sandwiches at once; cook in batches. Remove with tongs and drain on a paper towel-lined platter or tray. Salt them while they are still hot and let them cool. Once they are cool, transfer to a serving platter and garnish the border of the platter attractively with mint leaves, sprinkle some chopped mint over the sandwiches, and serve. The sandwiches can all be cut in half if you would like to make smaller portions. Serve at room temperature.


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