Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

 

I adore eggplant.  I love it’s versatility, it’s meatiness, the way it soaks up the surrounding flavors.  I love that you can even make desserts with eggplant! (Just ask the Sicilians).  Parmigiana has been a staple in my household for years.  When I was vegetarian, I used to prepare this all the time.  And, lucky for me, my sweetie Paolo, makes an amazing parmigiana.  Unfortunately, he is in Madrid, so I had to make this myself.

My daughter, also, absolutely adored this.  I didn’t tell her what was inside.  When she asked what was for dinner and I said Melanzane alla Parmigiana, she just nodded and life was ok for her.  Italian food is her passion.  I should probably start translating all of my dishes in Italian so she’ll eat them.  The best bit was when she tried the first bite and told me it was delicious.  Score!  Another veggie consumed happily by the picky teen!

Parmigiana can be served as a main meal, or as an appetizer.  But I like to eat it as a main, since every bite is amazing.  Oh, and this recipe I changed up a bit, to make it a little more heart and calorie friendly.  Instead of frying the eggplant, I baked them in the oven.   Let me tell you, I think I am going to make it like this all the time.  The flavors of the tomato sauce and the eggplant really came out, instead of the heaviness of the oil.  But hey, if you ain’t watchin’ your weight, go ahead and fry!

It is a very simple dish to prepare.  It has a few steps, but once that is done, you can just sit back and wait until it comes out of the oven.  And it’s even better the day after!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4 (as a meal) or 8 (appetizer)

2 medium eggplants, sliced and sprinkled with salt, and place in a colander for about 1 hour, then rinsed.

1 tbsp olive oil, more for tray and eggplants.

1/2 onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 small cans diced tomatoes, if you can, use italian tomatoes.  You WILL notice the difference.

2 fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).   On a large baking tray, place a layer of aluminum, and paint with a layer of olive oil.  Place all the eggplant slices on the tray, and then paint them with another layer of oil.

photo (99)

 

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until starting to brown.  Take out of the oven and lower the heat to 400F (200C).

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium low heat, add the tbsp of olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and sauté until translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes.   Add the two cans of tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes.

In a small baking dish, add a scant layer of tomato sauce.  Top with the slices of eggplant, then mozzarella, and finally the parmesan cheese.

photo 101

 

Repeat, adding, in order, tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella and parmesan until you have no more.  The last layer should be the mozzarella and parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes.   Uncover and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown and most of the water from the tomatoes has evaporated.    Take out of the oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

photo 103

 

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 2

Neapolitan Food

Eating in Italy is a religious experience.  Eating in Campania, well…..let’s just say it is one of a kind.  What is great about the food in Naples and it’s surroundings you say?  Wellllllll…….Let’s start off with the basics.  Tomatoes.  The best tomatoes in the world come from this area.  Namingly, the “Pommodori di San Marzano”

Tomatoes, Italy, Campania, San Marzano

This is the queen bee of sauce tomatoes.  Much like the roma, or plum, it is slightly longer and thinner, and juicy so perfect for that “Marinara” sauce on your pizza, or pasta.

Then there’s “Mozzarella di Bufala”.  This also hails from this region.  Delicious, sometimes tangy taste of pure Buffalo milk.

Mozzarella Cheese, Bufala, Italy, Campania

And then of course there’s “Pasta di Grangnano  trafilata al Bronzo”…..which is basically, excuse my home region of Emilia-Romagna, the best dry pasta, or Pasta Asciutta, your money can buy.

Faella, Pasta, Grangnano, Italy, Campania

And of course, I cannot forget all the seafood.  From squid, mussels, clams, octopus, and the queen of the sea, Ricciola, or Greater Amber Jack as we would call it.

But there is also the lemons….to make Limoncello, Granita, Salads, Lemonade……it is really a rich and diverse food basket that serves all of Italy, and the world.

Well, you know that one of the main reasons I went there was to eat.  So eat we did.  Here is the best of the best that we found in Napoli and around!

Our first night we were basically directed by a young lad to try “Oste Pazzo” restaurant, near the Lungomare and right below the “Castell dell’ Ovo”.

The waiters basically harassed (well, not too much, I mean, in terms of food you really don’t have to push me too far) to try the “Antipasto Tipico Napoletano”  This was basically comprised of a few octopus and squid salads with the typical “Fritti misti di pesce”.  That is mixed fried seafood.  I love me some fried food.  And it was awesome.

Fried Mixed Seafood, Italy, Naples

On the left is fried baby squid, quite like what we get here in Spain, but they were absolutely tiny and tender, and the batter was crazy good, crunchy, just a tad spicy, perfect.  In the middle we had two fritters with “neonati”, basically little fish in a delicious parsley spiked batter.  And on the right, fried white anchovies.  Paolo, my sweetie, wasn’t a big fan of these, he thought it was too fishy.  I however, loved it.  Something about munching on these, or any anchovy, is truly delicious.

Next up on the friend band wagon, is the Arancini.  I love arancini, and have featured them before on my blog.  But I have always eaten the Sicilian variety.  Never had I tried the Neapolitan ones.

Arancini, Fried Rice Balls, Italy, NapoliOn the left is the anemic looking “Arancino Bianco”, or white arancino, and on the right is the, you guessed it, “Arancino Rosso”, red arancino.  I was in for a huge surprise.  What looked like the bland, plain white arancino, turned out to be the tastiest one!  The white one stuffed with a pork sausage type of filling, and the rice was chock full of pepper and cheese.  It was absolutely amazing.  The red one, on the other hand, was more balanced, but also, less flavourful.  It is red because they cooked the rice with tomato sauce, and then it stuffed with a tomato meat sauce.  Both were delicious, but the white one won!

Neapolitans love their fried food.  Nary a street corner or restaurant menu that wasn’t filled with these guilty pleasures! Even for breakfast.  Upon arriving to the hotel we were instructed to go to a café called “Scaturchio”, a hundred year old café that has some pretty amazing pastries, and Napoli’s most famous, the Sfogliata.  Sfogliata is a filo-type pastry filled with sweet ricotta and candied fruits.  And one of the bonuses, is it’s served warm!

Scaturchio, Pastries, Naples, Italy

The pastry selection at Scaturchio

Sfogliata Pastry

Sfogliata Pastry from Scaturchio

It was delicious!  Crispy and buttery on the outside, warm, dense and moist on the inside.  Perfectly warm, so all you had to do was enjoy it without letting a drop of the ricotta fall!

In Capri, I mentioned we had a lunch with a view.  But obviously one of the things I wanted to eat in Capri was the Caprese Salad…..I mean, that is its birthplace!  So simple, but let me tell you, it was the best Caprese I have ever had.

Caprese SaladGorgeous, juicy, vine ripe “Cuore di Bue” tomatoes, with perfect spheres of “Mozzarella di Bufala”, accompanied only by a bit of rucola, extra virgin olive oil, and some salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Perfection on a plate!

We also enjoyed the “Insalata di Polipo con Agrumi”.  Octopus salad with citrus fruits.  This dish was made for summer in Naples.  Meaty, tender octopus bathed in lemon juice.  So refreshing for the unbearable heat!

Octopus salad with lemon dressingPaolo decided to go for the pasta, which was equally delicious, but I was trying to be “good” that day.  He had a very typical pasta that I have only tasted on this trip, called Sciallatielle.  This is a thick, flat, medium long noodle.  This pasta had been made fresh that day, and topped with Shrimp and cherry tomato sauce.

Sciallatielle Pasta with ShrimpThe shrimp in Naples are less briny than our mediterranean counterparts, equally delicious, but sweeter, and it complements the absolute star of this dish, the tomatoes.  Bursting with flavor!

Now the dessert here at Punta Tragara deserves special mention.  I was not very impressed by the title, Almond Crumble with Limoncello pastry cream.  But Holy Moses!!!!!  What an incredible dessert it is!  It is part lemon meringue, part lemon curd, part cheesecake crust!  All topped with the most beautiful and colorful summer berries.

Almond crumble with Limoncello Pastry Cream

In Positano, we went to a restaurant called “Le Tre Sorelle” that a friend of mine recommended.  It was a perfect beach-side lunch.  Although, Paolo chose the better (in terms of beachy-ness) option, but I just couldn’t be that close to Sorrento and not have “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina” which has to be one of my favorite dishes in the world.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce.  But this was definitely the best I have tasted.  Again, it comes down to the tomatoes my friends……I am having withdrawal symptoms already.

Paolo ordered the fish, with an “Aqua Pazza” Sauce.  The fish was perfectly cooked, fork tender and juicy.  Again….with amazing tomatoes and this time, potatoes!

Fish with Aqua PazzaThe presentation is gorgeous too, I have to say.

 

Oh my goodness….I can’t believe I forgot our starter at Tre Sorelle…..Zucchini Flowers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.  Just sublime.  I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this lunch.  Until the next one I guess.  Ok, I am a sucker, they are all really good.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto

 

And on our last night, we went uphill in one of Naples’ ritzier and more residential areas to a restaurant called “La Sacrestia”.  The menu looked amazing, the views were breathtaking, of the bay and Vesuvius.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the view, because the sun had already set….but here’s one so you can imagine!

Bay of Naples Also unfortunately, the restaurant was due to close the next day for holidays, so they didn’t have many of the dishes on the menu.  One of the dishes I wanted to eat was the Ricciola, the fish I had spoken about before.  But instead, they brought out a little tasting dish of pasta that really amazed me!  And I ended up recreating it at home.  I was really, really surprised because when they described it, it just sounded, well, blah.  It was Pasta with Mussels, Cherry tomatoes, Pepperoncino and Pecorino.

I loved it.  Obviously, the ingredients are the best of the best, so why bother adding more things that are unnecessary?  Gorgeous.

Well kids, I hope you enjoyed my culinary extravaganza of a trip through Campania.  Tomorrow…….PIZZA!

Carla

 

 

Sicilian Street Food: Arancini di Ragu

Ten years ago exactly we celebrated our 10 year high school reunion in Taormina, Sicily.  I fell so in love with the island; the smells of flowers and ocean air.  Its rocky cliffs dipping vertically into the clear, azure Ionic Sea.  The cobblestone streets with the outdoor cafes, bustling with ultra-cool Sicilians having Gelato con la Brioche, (incredible ice cream sandwiches) and Granita con la Panna, (italian ice with whipped cream).  The weather was perfect, mildly warm during the day, and cool and breezy at night.  I didn’t want to leave.

After this vacation, I moved to Barcelona.  And I decided that I wanted to bring back all of those glorious things I tasted on my trip.  So, I started traveling extensively throughout Sicily, took many cooking lessons, visited wineries, cheese producers, cured meat purveyors, all in hopes of soaking up what they do best in Sicily, cook and eat.

One of my favorite things I discovered, besides the gelato con la brioche, was Arancini.  The name means “small oranges”, obviously because of their color and shape.  But inside….it was a surprise that I was quite happy to discover.  Arancini are stuffed rice croquettes.  The ones that I like the best contain a ragu, or meat sauce, in the center.  But they can be as simple as plain mozzarella, or with spinach and cheese, or just vegetables.  The time I spent there, I met many Mamma’s, Nonna’s and chefs.  And each one of them imparted their unique technique’s from all over the island.  Here is my recipe for Arancini, mind you, it takes a bit of practice, and it definitely requires some patience since the process has quite a few steps.  But I wouldn’t hesitate to make them.  They are beyond delicious, and you will be very happy when your guests or family gobbles them up with huge smiles.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Makes about 8 arancini

For the rice:

3 cups water

1.5 cups arborio rice

2 tsp of salt

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the ragu:

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 large onion, finely minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp tomato paste

125g ground beef and pork

1/2 cup white wine

1 can of pureed tomatoes, 400g

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup peas

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Nutmeg

1/4 cup mozzarella, diced

2 eggs, beaten

Lots of bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a saucepan, add the water, salt and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, add the rice and turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes until it evaporates.

Let it cool a bit, and add your egg and parmesan cheese and mix well.  Spread out on a baking sheet and let cool in the fridge.

In the meantime, make the sauce.  In a large sauté pan over low heat, add the onion and garlic,cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, and raise the heat to high, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously so your onions and garlic won’t burn.  Add the beef/pork mixture, and sauté until cooked through, stirring the whole time.  When it is completely cooked, add the white wine and let it evaporate completely.

Add the tomato purée, and the vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low.  Add the peas and let simmer for about 20 minutes, just enough so that you have more meat to sauce, but it is still quite moist.

When done, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and mozzarella.  Mix well.  Let cool.

Now here comes the tricky part.  It is useful to have everything ready on your countertop before you begin to make the arancini.  In a deep, non stick frying pan, fill half full with the vegetable oil.  Place it over high heat.

Crack your eggs into a shallow bowl, and put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.  Place them side by side, and have your rice and ragu in a row so you can work easily.  It also helps to have a large bowl of water to rinse your hands with in between making the arancini, because it becomes a sticky mess, and of course, a kitchen towel over your shoulder to dry your hands with!

Now grab a bit of your rice, and place it in your other hand, and cup your hand.  Start molding the rice to your hand, creating a sort of pocket, like this:

Then place a generous tsp full of your sauce into the pocket.

Now, start closing your hand around the sauce, using your free hand to help you close up the hole.  Grab a little bit more rice and place it on top, pressing the rice to create a nice tight seam.  It takes a bit of artistry, but by the second or third one, you will get the hang of it.  Once the sauce is completely covered with the rice, mold into a ball shape.

Now roll in the beaten eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs, making sure that it is completely covered.  Then with a slotted spoon, place in the hot oil, and fry until the bottom half is golden brown, then flip it over and fry on the other side.  You can do a few at a time, just remember the order you put them in.

Strain on paper towels to take off the excess oil, and serve immediately.  You can also make them ahead, and before frying refrigerate for a few days.  Just bring them to room temperature before frying.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla