madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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roasted eggplant ricotta dip with fresh zucchini salad

the crunchy zucchini salad makes a wonderful contrast with the soft and silky eggplant puree

Eggplant. It’s been good to have you through this cruel summer, the hottest and dryest in decades.

Sweet, firm, smooth, full of the flavor of Arabian nights. We did a lot of nice things together, hot things.

But now it’s over.

This is the last time. In a short while you will be spongy, seedy and quite frankly, limp. I don’t want you in the winter. Please don’t call me, I will ignore you. But thank you, you’ve been nice, lovely actually.

Recipe

  • 5 eggplants (about 2 kg /4 lbs total weight)
  • 2 onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 250 gr / 1 cup ricotta
  • a handful fresh basil leaves or mint
  • 4 tablespoon toasted almonds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 zucchini

Pierce eggplants several times with a fork and place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake  in preheated oven at 220 C (430 ° F) until very soft. Turn them around every 20 min so they cook evenly. Let them cool, peel, chop roughly and transfer in a colander with a weight on top to drain the excess moisture. I bake the eggplants the night before, place them in a colander to drain and finish the dish a day later so the rest of the preparation is quick and convenient.

Chop the onions finely and saute in two tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Add the chopped eggplants and cook uncovered for 10-15 min. This will dry them further and bring out the flavor. Stir occasionally.

Add the minced garlic and torn basil leaves, cook for further 5 min, season with salt and black pepper to taste and let it cool.

Transfer in a food processor, add the ricotta and toasted almonds and puree until smooth.

Just before serving, shred the uncooked zucchini and toss with olive oil, salt and a squirt of lemon juice.  Arrange the zucchini shreds in a ring shape on a serving plate.

Pile the eggplant puree in the centre of the zucchini ring, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh basil. Serve with toasted crusty bread, pita or as a side vegetable to roasted meat.

It’s great party food, a sort of Italianized baba ganoush that might please even the unlucky few that don’t love eggplants. I adore them, in the summer.

Serves 10


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Eggplant Parmigiana

glorious eggplants, a taste of summer

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA.

I’m biting my nails here because I have so many things to tell you and if I don’t make a selection,  I’ll probably never get to the recipe.

First of all the name. Parmigiana literally means “from Parma”. However, this  recipe has been known as a tradition in Naples and Sicily since the early XIX century. Food historians have not come up with a conclusive explanation of why an iconic Southern dish has a Northern name. Some say that preparing vegetables alla parmigiana – i.e. in the way of Parma – refers to the use of layers interspersed with cheese and baked.

In origin, the eggplant parmigiana must not have not included Parmesan cheese which is now a standard ingredient. The Southerners used pecorino, provolone, caciocavallo, or mozzarella.

Who knows, may be the people from Parma invented the method and the Southerners adapted it to local ingredients.

I have inscribed this dish in the list of the mistreated foods of Italy. Too often I see impossibly fat recipes oozing cheap cheese, heavy bread-crumb coating and drowning in industrial amounts of oil. A gastroenterologist nightmare.

On the other hand I lost count of absurd adaptations to make it “light”. I admit it, it’s not a low-cal dish but if one wants dessert one has to have some sugar, right? So what’s the sense to use all sorts of alternatives which will taste and look like something else?

The eggplant parmigiana is a dish of fried eggplants baked with a little cheese and tomato sauce.  That’s it, simple, vegetarian and fantastic if properly prepared.

Recipe

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 300 gr / 8  oz fresh mozzarella sliced
  • 1 400 gr / 12 oz  tin peeled or diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion,  diced
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves

Eggplants:

Prepare and fry and  eggplants as explained here . Place in a colander for a few hours or possibly overnight to get read of excess oil. Grilled eggplants are often too dry, but if you don’t want to fry blanch them before grilling to keep them moist. Here is my recipe.

Sauce:

Heat 1 tablespoon EVO oil in a pan, add the onion, cover  and saute over low heat until translucent. Stir in the tinned tomato and a sprig of basil, cover again and cook for approx. 10 min. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.

Preheat oven at 180 °C / 350 °F.

Build up the parmigiana: spread two tablespoons of the sauce on  the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Cover with a single  layer of eggplant slices. Top with mozzarella, 2-3  basil leaves, 1 tablespoons of Parmesan and 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. Continue using all ingredients and finish with a layer of eggplant, sauce and Parmesan. Bake for 30 min until golden and bubbly.  You must allow it to cool off for at least 10 min before serving but it’s best at room temperature. In the summer we have it as a main vegetarian meal with crusty bread to mop up the gorgeous juices.


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I’m going eggplant

Eggplant, aubergine, has been around the Mediterranean for more than 500 years. No wonder this luxurious vegetable of Indian origin became a staple of Sicilian cooking. In a land too dry and warm to support large-scale cattle breeding, meat was an expensive rarity. Peasants in Southern Italy lived on a basic diet of olive oil, pasta, cheese and vegetables, occasionally fish. Eggplant, enriched by cooking in oil, must have been a welcome addition to their simple dishes.

Later in history some unknown gastronomic hero conceived the heavenly combination of tomato and eggplants. Fried eggplants are still used for a number of spectacular – and virtually vegetarian – dishes like eggplant parmesan,  caponata, pasta incasciata. I promise recipes for all these.

In my memory, the aroma of fried eggplants permeates images of luminous Sicilian summers. Memories of  green shutters closed against the heat. Tiny whitewashed alleys where you don’t see anybody but someone is cooking something magical somewhere. Memories of fragrant spaghetti with the sweetest tomato sauce piled high with slabs of golden aubergines and a sprinkle of baked ricotta, pasta alla Norma.

Yes, you can use grilled eggplants instead of fried, I know. But for a real bite of Sicily, please just try, even if only once. Fry and be happy.

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