I’ve been wanting to get back to my essence: That’s Italian.
With this in mind, I asked my Dad for some help when I was last up in NYC. He gave me the cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. It was a good choice. It includes the basics as well as techniques, descriptions, menus and so much. I love that it tells me what type of pan or dish I will need. My ADDled brain is always choosing the wrong dish.
There is a chapter entitled: At Table: The Italian Art of Eating. In it, Ms. Hazan explains how Italians eat in courses and what foods comprise these courses, as well as what goes with what. I already knew this, but it was a nice refresher as I had strayed from the course.(ha) Growing up, we only ate this way on Sundays and holidays. Americans simply don’t have the time to relish a meal at leisure. That is simply a shame, in my opinion.
You can’t tell from the picture above, but I got a beautiful eggplant from the CSA. Then I neglected it on the counter for days. I was going to throw it out, but decided to try the eggplant parmesan recipe in the book.
Marcella states you must purge eggplant of its harshness. I peeled and cut it into slices about 3/8″ thick. I’m not so good with the knife, so this varied wildly.
I then layered the slices inside a colander and sprinkled with salt. I then placed a dish under the colander and let it steep for over 30 minutes.
After steeping, I proceeded with the recipe on page 495. I dried and dredged the eggplant, and then fried them up.
My son volunteered to cut the mozzarella. This was mainly because he wanted to eat the mozzarella. I was ok with that. I was also ok that the mozzarella was not cut into the thinnest possible slices. Italian food is very forgiving.
I also went out to my veggie garden and picked some squash blossoms. These aren’t zucchini, I’m not sure what kind of squash I planted, as I only planted it to get the blossoms. There is a recipe for Crisp-Fried Zucchini Blossoms in the book, but I did this one off the top of my head. I dredged the blossoms as I did the eggplant and fried it using the same oil as the eggplant.
We ate the eggplant the following night and the day after that for lunch. The boy didn’t touch it. His loss, it was very good. Not too much sauce or too heavy. I am so glad I didn’t toss that poor old eggplant away!
I am also so glad my Dad gave me this book. My dad is a really good cook. He learned from watching his mother. I never learned from watching him. My grandmother was across the Atlantic in Rome, so I never got the opportunity to learn from her. We couldn’t communicate in the same language anyhow. An experienced cook won’t need this book, but for me I find it really useful. It’s as if Marcella is next to me, telling me what to do at each step and explaining how it should be. I always said the best way to learn is to have someone to teach you and that you could ask questions. I can’t ask Marcella questions, but so far her recipes have been instructive, thorough and straight-forward. I must admit I often dive into a recipe without reading it first. That’s my ADDled brain, if it doesn’t just do it, it’ll never get done. Usually, I get stumped by some ingredient or some tool or technique I don’t have or understand. Not the case here, glad to say. I look forward to coming up with some menus the next month and finding some more easy and quick weekday meals. I may even dare to try Gluten-Free Pasta. [GASP]
All recipes are from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
- 3 lbs eggplant
- flour spread on a plate
- 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, well-drained and chopped coarse
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 pound mozzarella, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves
- An oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11″x 7″
- Butter for smearing and dotting the dish
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- Slice the eggplant and steep it in salt as described
- Choose a large frying pan, pour enough oil into it to come 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and turn the heat up to high. When you have dried the eggplant thoroughly with paper towels, dredge the slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. Do only a few slices at a time at the moment you are ready to fry them, otherwise the flour coating will become soggy. After coating with flour, fry the eggplant, following the method described in the basic recipe, page 493.
- Put the tomatoes and oil in another skillet, turn the heat on to medium high, add salt, stir, and cook the tomato down until it is reduced by half.
- Preheat oven to 400
- Cut the mozzarella into the thinnest possible slices. Wash the basil, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.
- Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter. Put in enough fried eggplant slice to line the bottom of the dish in a single layer, spread some of the cooked tomato over them, cover with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan, distribute a few pieces of basil over it, and top with another layer of fried eggplant. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven.
- Occasionally eggplant Parmesan throws off more liquid as it bakes than you want in the pan. Check after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes by pressing down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon, and draw off any excess liquid you may find. Cook for another 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.
Ahead-of-time note Eggplant Parmesan tastes best shortly after it has been made, but if you must, you can complete it from several hours to 2 or 3 days in advance. Refrigerate under plastic wrap when cool. Warm it up on the topmost rack of a preheated 400 oven.
Crisp-Fried Zucchini Blossoms
4 to 6 servings
- 1 dozen male zucchini blossoms (on a stem)
- Flour and water
- Wash the blossoms rapidly under cold running water without letting them soak. Pat them gently but thoroughly dry with soft cloth or paper towels. If the stems are very long, cut them down to 1 inch. Make a cut on one side of each blossom’s base to open the flower flat, butterfly fashion.
- Pour enough oil in a frying pan to come 3/4 inch up its sides, and turn on the heat to high. When the oil is very hot, use the blossoms’ stems to dip them quickly in and out of the batter (of flour and water), and slip them into the skillet. Put in only as many as will fit very loosely. When they have formed a golden brown crust on one side, turn them and do the other side. Transfer to a cooling rack to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels, using a slotted spoon or spatula. If any blossoms remain to be done, repeat the procedure. When they are all done, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately.