Eggplants are at their best . . . time for my Parmigiana di Melanzane

DINNER LAST NIGHT: PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE

Few days ago, I told the world I was “in ferie” (summer holiday), however the reality of August being almost over, made me realize that I had things to share that could just not wait. This means that you will be reading a little more of me before the month is over . . . I hope this is good news!

Truly, there is not better time than August to share the recipe of the “Parmigiana di melanzane”. Eggplants, indeed, are at their best in August and the Parmigiana is the symbol per antonomasia (par excellence) of Ferragosto – no Italian Holidays’ history lesson today, I will save it for next year!

As for many Italian dishes there are several variations of the Parmigiana; some fry the eggplants without dredging in the eggs; some, hoping in a less caloric recipe, bake the eggplants rather than frying them; others, completely ignoring the calories, fry the eggplants twice: two slices of previously fried eggplants are assembled like a sandwich with the mozzarella in between and then fried again.

The Parmigiana was probably one of my mom’s specialties – for sure my husband’s favorite – she visited in USA twice and both times she baked her Parmigiana for our American friends . . . they still rave about. So guess what? I use my mom’s recipe – I know you have heard that before.

My mom, for special occasions, used the ragù sauce – recipe here – to dress the Parmigiana, however, the dish is just as delicious using a simple salsa di pomodoro (tomatoes sauce). The use of the ragù would add 4-5 hours to the recipe making it a lot less appealing. Even without using the ragù, this dish is not for you if you are pressed for time. Please don’t give up, plan in advance and I promise, that after your first bite, you will not regret the time spent in the kitchen.

The Parmigiana di melanzane has always been the dish of the convivial table, friends and family sharing earthy food, warm bread and good wine. It reminds me of the tavolate estive (summer gathering at the table) in my sister-in-law-garden, under the shade of the wisteria and surrounded by the vineyards whose grapes, would soon be ready for harvest.

When two nights ago, I decided to finally jot down the recipe, I realized that my pictures from the Parmigiana di melanzane’s file were all lost during my iPhoto crash . . . Have you read my previous post? While this realization was for me cause of despair, it was, on the contrary, cause of immense joy for my husband, who immediately realized that I would make Parmigiana for last night dinner! He was right; I could not post my recipe without my pretty step-by-step pictures.
Enough said, here it is from mia cucina (my kitchen)

Ricetta

PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE

COSA SERVE (What is needed):

2 pounds of long eggplants – use Italian type if possible or baby eggplants

2 pounds tomato purée

2 eggs

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 whole mozzarella – usually ¾ pound – cut into ¼ inches thick slices

1 cup of grated Parmigiano cheese

1 medium onion finely sliced

salt

1 bunch of basil

COSA FARE (What to do):

  • Wash the eggplants and dry. With a vegetable peeler, peel the eggplants leaving one unpeeled strip between peeling.

Obviously, this morning I found neither Italian eggplants nor baby eggplants.

  • Slice the eggplants lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices.

  • Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, put something heavy on top and let them release their bitter juice for 1 hour minimum, if using Italian or baby eggplants and up to 2 hours if using larger sizes (beware of the many recipes that suggest to let the eggplants to drain for only 20 -30 minute, it is not enough).

Look at the bitter juice!

  • Meanwhile prepare the tomato sauce: in a saucepan heat the oil then add the onion and cook until translucent (my mom, from time to time, would let the onion cook until it was brown and almost crunchy – not burned – she would then spoon it off the oil. Hard to believe, these crunchy fried thin slices of onions are actually delicious on a little piece of bread!).
  • Pour the tomato purée, bring to boil, add salt, and few leaves of basil – hand chopped, no such thing as chiffonade in my house. Stir, lower the heat, cover and let cook for twenty minutes or until thickened.

  • Preheat oven at 400 degree.
  • Rinse the eggplants and pat dry. In a wide, shallow bowl slightly beat the eggs with a little salt. Also, prepare a tray with flour. In a skillet, heat ½ cup of oil. Also, have a tray, lined with paper towel, ready.
  • Dredge each slice of eggplant in the flour first then in the eggs.

  • Immediately fry the eggplants in the hot oil until golden on both sides.

  • Spoon them out and let them drain on the paper towel. TIP: If you have a young man like my son, keep him out of the kitchen; my son kept stealing the fried eggplants every time I would turn around. Result? I ended up with few slices short for my last layer.
  • Time to assemble: Cover the bottom of a baking pan with a little tomato sauce then cover with one layer of eggplants.

  • Cover with the mozzarella, then a thin layer of tomato sauce and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano cheese. Repeat the steps ending with the layer of eggplants (TIP: change the direction of the eggplants for each layer. This will allow the Parmigiana to hold its shape once you cut and plate).

  • Cover the last layer with tomatoes sauce and sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese. Few fresh basil leaves will make it look pretty.

  • Ready for the oven . . . Bake for 30 minutes.

I wish you could smell my kitchen…

Oops, I forgot the timer and I left mine in a little longer, can you see the brown spots?

  • Turn the oven off and let the Parmigiana rest in the oven for at least 45 minutes. Remove form oven and let it rest for one additional hour. The Parmigiana is one of these dishes that develop its full flavor during resting time. So plan in advance, your Parmigiana will be even better if you prepare it the night before.

TIME FOR PLATING!

. . . AND TASTING!

Despite the few missing slices and the little overcooked top, my Parmigiana was buonissima!

As you can see, not much leftover!

One last thing . . . Please, don’t serve the Parmigiana on top of spaghetti!

Note: Also try the less traditional Parmigiana di Zucchini. The procedure to follow is the same, but the zucchini do not need to drain under salt.

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Easter Baking Marathon . . . recipes and memories

Since Easter is only three days away, this post is probably overdue. Nevertheless, I am sure some of you out there are still looking for traditional Italian Easter recipes.

In the next three days I will share with you one recipe a day: the pizza co’ l’erba, the pizza piena and the pastiera. So, don’t forget to come back to my blog everyday!

NOTE: I am sorry but I don’t have step by step pictures for the recipes. I can only show you few pictures from last year. As I’ll bake in the next few days I might be adding pictures to the post.

Easter baking is not just about the food, it is also about rituals, traditions and timing.

My childhood memories of Pasqua (Easter) are really happy ones. During the weeks heading into this Holiday, my mom would take me shopping for a my new Easter Sunday dress. This was also the first new dress of Spring. With the dress, of course, came new shoes. . . that’s where all started!

It was also time for Spring cleaning, but I have to admit that I was never a big help in that department.

By Domenica delle Palme (Palm Sunday) we were ready for the week ahead. My mom was very religious so the Settimana Santa (Holy week) was marked by specific events.

Religion, however, progressed step by step with the food planning and preparation.

On Thursday my mom would prepare the Pizza co’ l’erba (a savory Greens Pie). After one day of resting, the pizza was ready to be enjoyed on Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), when only frugal and meatless food could be consumed.

Pizza co’ l’erba is the recipe that I will share with you today.

On Thursday we would also go to visit i Sepolcri (the tombs). The correct designation is: Altar of Repose, the altar where Jesus Eucharist is worshiped. The fact that the altar is adorned with flowers and candles favors the idea of the tomb. Each church dressed the altar in a different way and by the end of the evening everyone discussed which display they liked best.

On Venerdi` Santo (Good Friday), during the day, the kitchen was always a busy place. The Pizza Piena (stuffed pizza) was prepared on this day.

This a typical recipe of the Irpinia, my hometown’s countryside. It is called stuffed pizza because it is – quite literally – stuffed with salami, cheese and eggs. The pizza piena develops its full flavor a couple of days after it has been baked. This is why it must be prepared not later than Friday (even better on Thursday) to be enjoyed on Easter day.

Friday evening was back to church for the Via Crucis. In Rome, the Via Crucis is particularly inspiring, as the Pope leads the procession around the Colosseum.

Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday), was when some of my relatives from out of town would arrive. The home was full and my mom, in between chats, would just keep on baking.

Beside the traditional Pastiera Napoletana (Neapolitan Easter Pie), my mom would also prepare the Casatiello dolce (Neapolitan Easter cake) whose recipe she inherited from my grandmother. This cake starts with the pasta madre (mother dough or pre-ferment). It has a very long prep time but the result is unique. The choice of the baking pan is also very important. You must use an aluminum ruoto (baking pan) with a diameter of not less than 16 inch and with a height of at least 8-10 inch. The dough takes 8-10 hrs. to rise. My mom used to leave the dough to rise overnight into these oversized baking pan. She would usually catch up with her sister and sister-in law through the night while keeping an eye on the dough and making sure it would not overflow.

My mom was the only keeper of my grandmother’s recipe, and unfortunately, since my mother passed, my brothers and I have not been successful in finding it yet. I have, however, done some research and I might have found a recipe that appear to be very close to my mom’s. It will be next year’s Easter experiment.

Of course, the Pastiera Napoletana was always the star of the show.

Finally, la Domenica di Pasqua (Easter Sunday). After three days of silence, the church’s bells are ringing again, and it is time to get ready for mass before the big feast.

I still cannot figure out how it was possible to spend almost two hours at church and then come home where a full – and when I say full I really mean it – meal was served at 2:00 pm.

Il pranzo di Pasqua ( Easter lunch), always started with hard boiled eggs, sopressata (a type of salami), and pizza piena. Il primo ( the first course) was usually tagliatelle con spezzatino di agnello ( tagliatelle with a lamb and egg white sauce). Il secondo (the second course) was baked leg of lamb with potatoes and peas. Then of course a little more pizza piena, a little bit of cheese, a slice a of pizza co’ l’erba, and finally. . . i dolci ( the sweets), my mom special casatiello dolce, the pastiera, the Colomba (Easter Dove bread), and l’Uovo di Pasqua ( Easter chocolate egg).

La Colomba e l' Uovo di Pasqua

In Italy we don’t have the Easter Bunny, but we do have the Easter egg, which is one of my favorite tradition and the one the every child cherishes. A large chocolate egg wrapped in colorful paper and with a surprise inside. You can find eggs in different sizes and made with milk or dark chocolate. My favorite is the one with very coarse pieces of hazelnut blended into the chocolate; this egg has a very rough texture compared to the traditional chocolate eggs which are less thick and have a smooth finish. For the first few years after I moved to the States, I had asked my brother to send me the hazelnut Easter egg but then, I stopped asking. This year, however, when my Italian friend told me she was going to spend Easter in Italy and she asked me what to bring me back, I knew what I wanted: The chocolate hazelnut Easter egg!

Over the years I have always managed to find an Italian Uovo di Pasqua for my boys. It has became a tradition for them too and I hope they will carry it on.

Here we are with the first recipe of this Easter baking marathon, the pizza co’ l’erba.

This is a traditional greens pie of my homeland. It is called con l’erba (with grass), because some wild herbs are used. Typically, four different greens are used for the filling: scarola (escarole), borragine (borage or start flower), cardilli selvatici (young leaves of thistles ) and agrifoglio (chervil). You use equal parts of the first three ingredients while a small bunch of chervil is all you need to give this pie its distinct aroma..

I haven’t always been successful in finding the right ingredients, so over the years I have made some adjustments and you might have to do the same.

  1. You can substitute the borage with chard
  2. You can substitute the thistles with dandelion or chicory

For the dough I use a typical pizza dough recipe.

Ricetta Pizza co’ l’erba

Pizza from last year. . . made a square one this year.

Ingredients (for a 12 inch pie dish):

For the Dough:

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2-1/8 cup warm water

2 teaspoons olive oil

1-2/3 tsp salt

½ packet dry yeast (1tsp)

1 teaspoon sugar

For the Filling:

1 lb. Escarole

1 lb. Borage (or chard)

1 lb. Young leaves of thistles (or chicory)

1 small bunch chervil

6 salted anchovies (or 12 anchovies in olive oil)

2 cloves of garlic (minced)

¼ cup of pine nuts

¼ cup of raisins (soaked in warm water)

abundant extra-virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Directions

Prepare the Dough: Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let it foam. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment, add the flour, the yeast, the olive oil, the remaining water work for two minutes then add the salt and work until the dough is elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Prepare the Filling: Wash the vegetables well.

Cook them in boiling salted water (15-20 minutes). Drain, let cool, and squeeze to remove the excess water. Chop them into pieces (not too small).

In a large pan heat the olive oil, add the garlic and half of the anchovies. Cook until the anchovies have dissolved.

Add the remaining anchovies (previously chopped), the pine-nuts, and the raisins.

Stir gently so that everything is coated with oil. Add the vegetables, stir and cook for 5-8 minutes, add salt to taste, stir again. Let cool.

Preheated oven at 425° degree and brush with oil a pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and place it into dish.

Used a square dish this year!

Arrange a thick layer of the filling (at least 1 inch).

 

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pizza, fold the edge of the dough and press it using your finger. Prick the surface using a fork. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle a little bit of kosher salt.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

This pizza is best enjoyed after resting overnight.

 

Related posts:
Day 2 of my Easter baking marathon, Pizza Piena

Day 3 of my Easter baking marathon – Pastiera

My Limoncello Biscotti . . . Perfect for tea!

Perfect for tea!

As promised, here it  is the  follow up on my previous post on Limoncello.

Last Saturday, during the bottling step of the Limoncello making, I kept thinking that I could surely find a good use for this flavorful liqueur infused lemon’s zest. So, rather than discarding it, I decided to save it in a Tupperware. Once my client was gone, I proceeded in decking up my bottles and then it finally hit me . . . ” I was going to make Limoncello Biscotti (cookies)!”

I used an old cookie’s recipe to which I added my wonderful zest and of course some Limoncello. Two hours later My Limoncello biscotti were already cooling on the wire racks! My son would not wait for them to completely cool and kept stealing them every time I would turn my eyes away. My husband after tasting few of them said they were buonissimi (very very good), my neighbor and  friend Lori, who later in the day was pet sitting my two dogs, said they were delicious. However, she was cornered by Luna and Vera (my 10 years old Golden Retriever and my 15 months old Golden Doodle) that didn’t agree with her eating our cookies!

What did I think about the cookies? I thought they were good, yet, I wanted the flavor to be a little more pronounced so I quickly jot down a note on my recipe jurnal to add more zest and Limoncello next time. Ok . . . they were not perfect this first time around, still, they were a perfect companion to my afternoon tea.

I am sure Santa would enjoy these cookies too!

Twenty four hours later my biscotti are gone . . . good thing I had frozen some of my precious zest!

I thought of other ways to use the Limoncello infused lemon’s zest and, although I have not experimented yet, I bet that a Limoncello Pound Cake with bits of zest would be just wonderful! So would be a Limoncello Sorbet or a Limoncello Custard to serve warm with sugar cookies . . . che delizia! (how deliciuos!)

Can you think of other ways to use the zest? Let me know.

Without further ado I give you My recipe.

My Limoncello Biscotti

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 – 1/4 cup granulated sugar

7 oz cold unsalted butter (My preference is European butter)

1 large whole egg

2 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup of Limoncello infused lemon’s zest

1/4 cup of Limoncello

Before you start, in a bowl sift together the flour, the salt and the baking powder.  Also, cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and keep it chill.

In a bowl of a food processor combine the sugar and the lemon zest, pulse until the zest is reduced into tiny bits.

Add the butter, the whole egg and the yolks and process until all the ingredients are combined.

Slowly add the Limoncello then the sifted flour.

Mix on low speed until the dough starts coming together.

Damp the dough on a surface dusted with flour and shape into  two balls.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.

You now have two options to shape your  cookies. Work with one ball of dough at the time, keeping the other refrigerated.

Option 1:

Pinch off the dough to form 1 inch balls. Slightly flatten the balls between your hands and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Use your floured index finger to create a slight depression in the center of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes then, transfer on wire rack to cool completely. Now that I think about it, once the cookies are cool, you could  fill the little depression with a small dollop of Nutella!

Option 2:

On a surface well dusted with flour roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch thick (make sure your rolling pin is also dusted with flour). Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. Also, work fast so the dough doesn’t get warm.  Cut into desired shape, place on baking sheet lined with parchment, or silicone baking mat.

Refrigerate the cookies for 10 minutes before baking.

Remove from refrigerator and bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until they are just beginning to turn brown around the edges (I accidentally cooked mine few extra minutes. Make sure you use a timer!). Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes and then transfer on wire rack until completely cool.

Enjoy your biscotti with tea, or coffee.

Related Post: Limoncello