madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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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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peperoni all’aceto balsamico

a very Italian stir fry, balsamic glazed bell peppers

a very Italian stir fry, balsamic glazed bell peppers

BALSAMIC GLAZED BELL PEPPERS  More glorious summer colors and Mediterranean flavors here. Make sure to use large, thick fleshed, fresh peppers, yellow or red as the green ones are not sweet enough.

Capers are the edible buds of  a hardy bush which grows on walls and rocky soils in the  Aeolian islands, near Sicily. If possible, use small capers preserved in salt, they are more aromatic and less pungent than the pickled ones. This is a simpler version of a recipe I found on Antonio Carluccio’s book “Southern Italian feast”.

Recipe

  • 2 large red or yellow peppers
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Deseed the peppers and cut them in 1/2-inch wide strips. Put the oil and pepper strips in a large, heavy based, pan and cook over fairly high heat for 10 min., stirring often to prevent burning.
Lower the fire, move the peppers strips towards the edge of the pan and add the pressed garlic, and anchovy, stirring quickly until the anchovy melts. Add vinegar, stir for a few more minutes, sprinkle with chopped basil and remove from the fire.  Let it rest for at least one hour and up to two days, it improves with time. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 4


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tagliolini with almond pesto and broad beans

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

TAGLIOLINI WITH PESTO AND BROAD BEANS. Umbrians love broad beans, fave. As soon as it’s spring, crates of the long green pods start to appear in markets and shops. Those who are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden will pick the young and tender ones and give bagfuls to their neighbors as a gift. The fave are eaten fresh, just out of the pod, often accompanied by a slice of young pecorino cheese.

Spring basil is tender and flavorful enough to make a pesto, either “alla genovese” with pine nuts (pignoli) or with almonds and ricotta like I do here. Summer basil would of course be much better for the pesto but then the fave are finished!

Recipe

  • 200 gr (7 ounces) dry egg tagliolini (very narrow fettuccine)
  • 200 gr (1 cup) broad beans (yields 6 tablespoon shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove very finely minced
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoon ricotta (optional)

For pesto:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves, about 4 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoon chopped almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

If you buy fresh fava beans on the pod, you will need about  1/2 kg (1 lb) per person. Blanch broad beans in boiling hot water for 5 min or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove shells. This will take some time but brings the dish from ordinary to quite amazing. Reserve.

To make the pesto I just blitz all ingredients in a bowl using an immersion blender. If you are a purist however, please make it with mortar and pestle. Make sure to make the pesto at the last possible moment before using it in the sauce. This way the pesto does not oxidize and as a consequence all flavor is retained. While making the pesto, cook the tagliolini in plenty salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, saute 1 clove garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add broad beans and cook briefly to infuse them in the garlic oil. Take off the heat and add 2 tablespoon pesto and two tablespoon ricotta (if using).

Drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup pasta water. Transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce on high heat. Add some pasta water and quickly stir so that the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Serves 2

the delciate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this light sauce

the delicate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this fragrant sauce

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