My Own ‘Cheat’ Parmigiana di Melanzane Recipe

Sometimes I post a blog after a distance of three weeks: today I am posting three recipes all on the same day.   And they are all about aubergines/eggplant.  It must be that I am fired up by aubergines today?

If there is something that makes me almost weep with gastronomic pleasure, it’s a properly make parmigiana di melanzane, a layered aubergine and mozzarella bake in a tomato sauce with parmesan thrown in for good measure and a key ingredient that gives the recipe its name.  I wrote a blog about it last year:

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/patience-permitting-a-parmigiana-di-melanzane-most-fitting/

“Patience Permitting, A Parmigiana di Melanzane most Fitting” – the title says a lot, doesn’t it.  Yes, yes indeed.  This is a recipe that takes a LOT of time and patience and one that I most likely make only once or twice a year.

So … I thought that I might work out a ‘cheat’ version – never as good, obviously, but all in all nothing to sneer at.

Take a look.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergine, flour, oil for frying (this time I used olive oil but you can also use groundnut oil which has a good smoke point), mozzarella, tomato sauce, grated parmesan cheese, basil

1Start by slicing the aubergine into ‘chips’ and then flouring them.  The reason they need to be floured before frying is that they will otherwise absorb an awful lot of oil.  The flour acts like a sheath.  Shake the excess flour off the chips before frying them.

2Fry them until they go crisp.   Lay them on kitchen paper that will absorb any excess oiliness.

3Wait for them to cool down a little and then place them in a roasting pan – I happened to use this pyrex dish.  Add chunks of mozzarella. Sprinkle some salt.

4Add a layer of tomato sauce, scatter some basil leaves, and sprinkle some parmesan.

5Repeat the same procedure, with another layer.

6Bake until cooked.  Add more fresh mozzarella and basil leaves just before serving.

Not quite as lip-licking delicious compared with a ‘proper’ parmigiana di melanzane but it’ll do when time is of the essence.

My Mother’s Aubergine/Eggplant Sandwich

Since I wrote about my mother-in-law’s recipe with aubergines, I think it might be a good idea to also include one of my own mother’s aubergine recipes.  This is not about rivalry between mothers-in-law but, rather, about variety being the spice of life.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergine/eggplant, flour, egg, oil for frying (groundnut oil), mozzarella, anchovy

Start by turning the oven on.  Isn’t it weird how so many summer dishes actually entail having to deal with a hot oven? Sigh.

1

Flour on the left, beaten eggs on the right.  You might even add a little water to the beaten egg.  I had to water down my egg wash once because I didn’t have enough eggs to hand and everything worked out just fine.

2Slice the aubergine into rounds.

3Flour them on both sides and then dip them in the egg wash.

4Fry them on both sides.

5Pat the top of the fried aubergine with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess oiliness. Then sprinkle a little bit of salt.  Only a little.

6The idea is to make a sandwich with the slices of fried aubergine.  Place some mozzarella and a fillet of anchovy (the kind that is packed in oil) on one slice, add some basil and then bring the two halves together.

7Bake in the oven (200°C I would say) until they are done – about half an hour?

They don’t look like much but don’t be fooled.  Not once, not once I repeat, have I ever had any leftovers when it comes to this recipe !

Aubergine/Eggplant Baked ‘Boats’

1

I would rank this among the ‘epitome section’ of home-made dishes.  And by that, I mean that I would not expect to see it offered on any restaurant menu.  A quiet pride at their core made up of unsophisticated and bold statement-making flavour(s), the ‘barchette di melanzane’, i.e. “little aubergine boats”, are the kind of summer dish that only a Mamma would make for her family.  It does take patience, for one thing.  My own mamma never made these but my mother-in-law did.

We were visiting my husbands’ parents who spend their summers in a small town in the Marche, called Monterubbiano.  Very sadly, my mother-in-law is now incapable of cooking anything because she has Alzheimers and her version of reality has already gone beyond the slippery edge of mixed-up reasoning.  She still recognizes us and that is a boon and when she sees me preparing for a meal asks me whether I could do with some help.  I make her peel garlic or potatoes, or slice tomatoes – that sort of thing.  Funny how ‘manually’ speaking she is still capable of some things.  Conversation, however, can veer off into pockets of the absurd that might have inspired Beckett, and repetition is the least of it.   All ill health is tragic but some diseases are more tragic than others.

This recipe, the aubergine boats, used to be one of her summer specialities, that my husband remembers with the fondness of a grateful son.  Now she can’t even remember making them.  I had never made them before and I expect there are other versions out there that are easier or better to make but here we go anyway.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines/egg plants, minced meat, onion, garlic, parsely, tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese

Silly things first: turn the oven on, put a pot of water to boil, arm yourself with some patience – depending on which time of day make yourself some coffee or tea or else pour yourself a glass of wine.

2

Begin my cooking the minced meat with a little olive oil.

3

While it’s cooking, cut the two aubergines in half and use a sharp knife to diagonally cut the inside of the half into diamond-like shapes – as in the photo above.  Be careful not to reach the bottom of the aubergine otherwise you’ll cut that too.

4Spoon out the cut chunks of aubergine.  This is not quite as easy as it looks by the way, be prepared.

5Brown an onion with some olive oil.

67Three things going on here at the same time: (1) the meat is cooking, (2) the onions are browning and (3) the aubergine halves are being dunked in boiling salted water for only a minute or so, to soften them.

8Add some parsely to the onions.

10Then add the chunks of aubergine.

11Add the meat and some tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro).

912I decided it needed some garlic too – and extra parsely.  Make sure to taste and season accordingly (salt and pepper, maybe a little bit more olive oil even).

All this didn’t take very long and is quite an ‘intuitive’ approach to cooking minced meat in a tomato sauce – think lasagna for instance.

I had to wait for the aubergine halves to cool down – and they were very ‘floppy’.  It was at this point that I asked my mother-in-law to help me – and she did.  By spooning the sauce into the aubergine ‘boats’.

13Here she is.  As you can see, we sprinkled some parmesan over the boats before placing them in the previously heated oven.

14Bake for about 30-40  minutes at a temperature of 200°C.

15They can be eaten at room temperature – in fact, even better.  Here they are served the following day.

Summer Chicken Salad

A chicken salad is one whose prime ingredient is the chicken – duh – but the other elements that compose it are not the same all year round.  This being a very very hot August, I decided that buying a rotisserie chicken made a lot more sense – better than poaching a chicken myself and waiting for it to cool down, etc.

The real ‘nuisance’ about this salad, and one which you are free to avoid, is making the mayonnaise.  (Personally, I can’t stand bought mayonnaise because to my mind it really isn’t mayonnaise, just some kind of industrially produced salad cream.)  There are loads of youtube tutorials on how to make mayonnaise and the easiest, I think, is the one using an immersion blender.   Real mayo makes all the difference I promise you.

INGREDIENTS

Eggs for the home-made mayo, extravirgin olive oil, lemon, patisserie chicken, bacon, various kinds of salads, rocket/arugula, celery (sliced), red pepper corns, grapes (sliced)

1

I started out by cooking the bacon until very crisp and waiting for it to cool before adding it to the mayonnaise.  Don’t tell anyone but … I actually used some of the  bacon fat to MAKE the mayo, aha! On top of olive oil of course, and lemon juice.

2

Chopping the chicken did take longer than I thought it would but there you are – this was a recipe made with love.  Once done, I added the chicken to the mayo and left the bowl (covered) in the fridge until it was time for dinner.  In the meantime, I also sliced the celery and washed the salad leaves and, again, left them in the fridge.  Then off we went to the beach for the day.

3

Silvia, favourite son’s girfriend, went to the trouble of slicing the grapes in half.  Good girl …

4

I placed the salad on the bottom of the serving plate and added the chicken in its mayonnaise coating on top.  And then added the celery and the peppercorns.  The grapes went in last.

5A close-up ….6On the table, taking pride of place amongst the other dishes.7Bit of a weird photo, but we were starving by then and there was much rejoicing and wolfing down of food to be done.

RECAP

Cook bacon, make mayo, add chicken to mayo and store in fridge.   Slice celery, wash salads and grapes and store in fridge.  Slice grapes just before eating.

Rehana’s Lemon Condiment and A New Recipe for Cod

  1. I do not know whether I shall make this recipe any time soon but I do now that I shall definitely be using Rehana’s lemon condiment again – what a shame that a blog post can’t impart an aroma, let alone a taste !

This is Rehana:

1

She and I work at the same Wine Estate where clients can choose to do a pasta or a pizza class or just sit down to a nice lunch.  It gets super busy at times as we serve the food and wine, and talk with and tend to the clients, with much to-ing and fro-ing between the kitchen and the dining  halls.  And we invariably talk about food and recipes in between, together with the chef, Luigi.  Luigi lived in France for nine years and speaks brilliant French.  Rehana is from Mauritius and speaks English as well as French.  She lived in Lebanon for a while, before coming to Italy with her husband and family.   My own family lived there too in the seventies, up until the ghastly civil war that started in 1975.  Our clients hail from all over the world.

Despite the Winery’s being an uber-Italian establishment, and with good reason, the food talk very often skirts around non-Italian traditions and recipes.  I don’t know where Rehanna picked up some Chinese recipes for instance but she has promised that we are going to cook some together one day.  I want to find out more about her Mauritius cuisine, it sounds very intriguing.

Out of the blue, just the other day, she delights us all with a present of a small jar of condiment she had made.

3

Here is how she made it.  She gets unwaxed lemons, cuts them in half and squeezes the juice out of them (the juice can be used for other preparations).  She then stores the lemon halves in a jar filled with salted water, for about a month.  At this point, she removes the pith, the inner white fibrous membrane directly below the zest.  She then mashes what’s left – i.e. basically just the lemon rind – with fresh green chillis, garlic and a little bit of onion.  And that’s it.  The taste is explosive and tangy and incredibly more-ish.

Once home, I knew I was going to make some ‘baccalà’ – cod – for dinner in a tomato sauce I had made the day before, using fresh tomatoes, removing their skins and cooking them down.   I also had some yellow courgettes/zucchine to play with.

INGREDIENTS

Summer tomato sauce: i.e. a sauce made with fresh tomatoes, in the absence of which I suppose you could use some good quality plum tomatoes or a passata

Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fillet of cod, courgettes/zucchine, basil, some toasted bread and Rehanna’s condiment of course.

4I’d never had yellow courgettes before.  Spoiler alert: they taste just the same as their green cousins.  It was their cheery colour that attracted me.

9

I cut them so as to leave out  as much of their pulp as possible.5I sliced the cod into thick ‘chunks’.

6aSlices of toasted bread.

LET’S GET COOKING !

6Here I am cooking the garlic in a puddle of oilve oil together with some basil and a teensy bit of fresh red chilli.

8Not long later, I added the tomato sauce and sprinkled some salt.

7I cooked the sauce for only a few minutes and then puréed it with an immersion blender.

I put the saucepan back on the fire and added the courgettes (sorry no photo) and let them cook for just a minute or two in the sauce.

10I decided to be careful with Rehana’s condiment and added just one teaspoon at first.

11But then I added another two … the sauce was mouth wateringly good at this point.

12It takes hardly any time for the cod to cook.  Meanwhile I had toasted the bread.

13And here is how I served the cod – lots of delicious sauce to mop up, and some grapes for added sweetness and contrast.

Thank you Rehana !

 

Carbonara: ‘Mayonnaise’ Tip

The origins of the carbonara pasta sauce are a bit of a moot point.  More and more current researchers believe that it came about as a result of American soldiers’ food rations when they liberated Rome and Italy (together with the other Allies let us please not forget ! Brits, Poles, Indians, Aussies, New Zealanders, French and Moroccans, and the Italian Partisans too).  The thread is that the staple bacon and eggs ration of the American GI got morphed into a guanciale OR pancetta and pecorino cheese sauce, liberally sprinkled over with freshly ground pepper.  The reason for this conclusion is that the Carbonara recipe is not to be found in any Italian Cookery book prior to the late 1940s.  So whether the GI Joes really were behind it or not, it can be indisputably ascertained that the Carbonara as we know it today originated some time during WWII.

And in Rome we think we make the best Carbonara.

The four pillars of  the Roman pasta portfolio are: (1) Cacio e Pepe (using only pecorino cheese and pepper), (2) Gricia (pecorino again but this time with the addition of rendered pork jowl aka guanciale);  (3) Amatriciana or Matriciana (basically a Gricia cooked in a tomato sauce and served with Pecorino) and (4) last of all the Carbonara.  The first two are, historically speaking, the ancients.  The third required the use of tomatoes that hailed from the Americas, and that didn’t begin to joyously ‘invade’ Italian recipes until the early 1800s.  So our Carbonara is the new kid on the block and maybe, just as with the tomatoes in the Amatriciana, comes with a bit of an American ‘background’.

Earlier I wrote that Romans like to think that they make the best Carbonara.  And I like to think that the way I make it is representative of its Roman outlook: I don’t like pancetta, I prefer guanciale.  I do not like the mix of  both parmesan and pecorino, I prefer to use pecorino only.  Also, I do not use the egg whites, only the yolks.  Raw egg yolks are good for you, raw egg whites are not.  True, the cooked pasta which is still hot will “cook” the beaten egg mixture but I still think that the egg whites are unnecessary and do not add any flavour whatsoever.  Last, as with any ‘normal’ Italian Carbonara lover, I am of the idea that adding cream or herbs to this hearty pasta is anathema.

INGREDIENTS

Eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper.  Spaghetti or tonnarelli are all very well and good but short-shaped pastas are easier to handle.

PASTA BRAND

Today, I decided to use Delverde which gets its name from the River Verde.  They draw their water for their pasta-making from the River apparently.  They are geographically very close to the popular De Cecco and Cocco pasta brands, Fara San Martino in the Abbruzzi Region.  http://www.delverde.com/it

 

I decided to weigh the pasta today: 380g for three people (i.e. 125g each – this is a really BIG helping, and 380g would suffice for four people ordinarily.  But but but … Carbonara has a way of being very more-ish).

PLAYING AROUND WITH THE PEPPER

Try this tip if making Cacio e Pepe too.  Those who understand Indian cooking know that it is vital to warm up spices before including them in a recipe, and this is the same idea. I actually read about it for the first time what feels like aeons ago, probably in the late 1990s, in a cacio-e-pepe recipe by Maureen Fant (Partner at Elifant Archaeo-Culinary Tours) who has been living in Rome for decades.  If it works for cacio e pepe it must surely work for Carbonara, I thought.  And it does.

3

You’ll need a wee pot or pan (the one in the middle) and a mortar and pestle.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just use a full can/tin of something (baked beans?) or a rolling pin to bash the pepper corns.

4

Warm the pepper over a low heat and be sharp and keep an eye on the procedure.  Just last month, I was heating up the pepper and left it to finish watering my plants on the balcony (we women are always multi-tasking even when we’re cooking).  To my horror, when I returned to the kitchen minutes later I could hardly breathe and my eyes began to smart: the essential oils from the pepper had gone beserk.  I had to throw them out and stay away from the kitchen until the ‘smell’ dispersed, cough cough.

5As you bash the warmed pepper in the mortar, the NICE fragrance from the pepper will make you smile.

6And then, since you can’t bash the pepper to smithereens, put it through a strainer/sieve.  The end result will be so much more refined and also good for avoiding pepper overload.  I saw this tip with the sieve in a Jamie Oliver episode when he was in Rome making cacio e pepe on a roof top.

You can keep any leftovers in a sealed jar.  It will always smell and taste more fragrant than unheated pepper.

Pepper prep finished.

GRATE SOME PECORINO

7If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll know how much I detest grating cheese.  I always try and find someone who wants to be helpful and the task today landed on my obliging husband.  He does ask silly questions, however: “How much should I grate?”.  I don’t know.  Enough for four people.  As it turned out, he grated just the very amount I was after, huh! (Actually a tad too much but that’s not a problem.)

GUANCIALE (PORK JOWL) AND RENDERING THE GUANCIALE

8The rule of thumb – well at least MY rule of thumb – is at least 30g of guanciale per person, 35-40g  being even better.  But I use my eyes a lot too.  As I was slicing, I cut what I thought would be enough for four 100g portions and then added an extra slice – a bit like when making tea in a teapot, you know, 1 teaspoon loose leaf tea per person plus one for the pot.

Think of it this way: 40g guanciale x 100g of pasta per person.  I cut it first and weighed it later, and it came to just under 150g – wow, bang on considering I was cooking 380g of pasta!

9After you’ve sliced the guanciale in match-stick shapes, turn on the heat and let it cook and the fat render very slowly.  I actually started out doing this first,  and then got on with the pepper prepping as the guanciale was cooking.

10Once the guanciale is thoroughly cooked, you will need a sieve and a bowl or something to catch the rendered fat.

11Here we go.

12Transfer the cooked guanciale to a large saucepan.  Later you will be draining the cooked pasta directly into this saucepan – no heat.  You could, if you preferred, use a big fat large bowl instead of a saucepan.

CARBONARA MAYONNAISE

13What you see are: 4 tablespoons of grated pecorino on the left (1 tablespoon per person) and the rendered guanciale fat on the right.  Which has been left to cool.

Carbonara can go horribly wrong if it the egg curdles over the hot pasta.  My way of making carbonara does a great job of avoiding this pitfall.  And basically, it’s like making a sort of mayonnaise – only we are using pork fat instead of a vegetable oil, and adding grated cheese.

14Here are the cheese and the fat.

15Time to add the egg yolks.  These were rather small eggs so I used 1 egg per person plus another for good luck.

16The egg whites are in that terracotta bowl.  (I later put them in a small jar in the freezer. )

So rule of thumb: 30-40g guanciale x 100g pasta x 1 egg yolk per person x 1 tablespoon grated pecorino romano cheese.

17When I mixed everything together, however, my mixture was a bit too liquid for my liking so I added some more pecorino.

18And also a sprinkling of pepper.

The pasta has been cooking for at least 4 minutes at this point …

19I remove some of the cooking water.  That ‘thing’ you see in the cooking water is a bit of guanciale that had accidentally fallen into the pot.  No problem, if anything it adds flavour.

I now wait for the cooking water to cool.

20I add the cooking water a little at a time, a little at a time, until I get a creamy sauce.  This is literally minutes before draining the pasta.

TIME TO BRING IT ALL TOGETHER

21

22On the table.

23One last thing.  As always we must always taste, taste, taste.  And the carbonara sauce was VERY tasty.  It needed more cheese but I decided to add parmigiano/parmesan at this point rather than pecorino because otherwise it would have been too strong.

Below is a link to some very short videos showing me make carbonara dating back to March 2014 – more than five years ago!  I have ‘perfected’ the recipe over time, as outlined in today’s post.  There is always something new and wonderful to learn in the world of cookery.

I hope you find my ‘mayonnaise’ approach useful and if you have any other short-cuts and/or tips do let me know, thank you!

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/videos-of-the-carbonara-in-the-making/

Pasta Ulrika following on Pasta Camilla

Here we are.  I seem to be having a courgette/zucchine obsession.  Well, in my defence, they ARE everywhere this time of year and you know what they say, when life hands you lemons, make Limoncello … no no no.  When life presents courgettes, find a way of making them interesting.

1

Some fresh chilli for instance.  As in the above photo.

2 (2)

Since I am making pasta, I know I shall want some grated cheese – and I opt for a mixture of pecorino and parmesan.  There is no one about wanting to help me grate the cheeses so I choose to cheat.   This is not the best way to grate cheese because it can’t be fine enough.  But it was fine enough for me that evening.

3

What you see are eight slices of thinly sliced (by my butcher) of guanciale, pork jowl.  If anything can make a pasta dish more ‘interesting’, it’s most definitely guanciale: think Amatriciana, think Carbonara, think Gricia.  I cut the guanciale up into smaller portions.

4

I cooked the guanciale over a low heat so that its fat would render.  And I waited for it to become a little crispy.

5

While the guanciale was cooking, I set about removing most of the pulp from the courgettes.   Talking about kitchen toys as I did in my previous post, that tool you see with a white handle is a courgette corer.  Very handy for when you want to make stuffed courgettes.  You can also use it as an apple corer.

6

7

I slimmed down the courgettes and cut them down to bite size.

8

And now it’s almost time to cook.  Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a big saucepan and add garlic, pepper corns and fresh mint.

9

Once the courgettes have been slimmed down even more into large cubes, turn the heat on, cook the garlic until it becomes golden, and then add them.

10

I added the fresh chilli too.  The veggies were cooking under quite a fiery heat.

11

And now I did the porky ‘thing’ of adding the fat rendered from the guanciale to the  mix. Only the fat.  Save the guanciale meat for later.

13

I swithched the heat off and blended the courgettes as much as I could.

14

The blending became easier after the addition of plenty of cream.

15

The last addition was the grated cheese.  Time to test.  Add salt and pepper as required.

16

Drain the pasta directly into the large saucepan, add a little cooking water and toss and turn until the pasta is well coated and/or has absorbed some of the sauce.

17

See what I mean?  I added yet more fresh mint leaves.  And last, the crispy guanciale.  You could, if you wished, add the guanciale directly onto the pasta served on a plate.  But people were getting hungry, all eight of us and there wasn’t time for such a nicety.  There was some extra grated cheese already on the table for those who wished to add a sprinkling on top of their plate.

18

So eager was everyone to dive in, that no one took a photo – not a single photo of the delicious pasta on the plate !  So what you see above is the pasta (what was left of it) the day after.  Sigh.

19

The good thing was that someone got to eat these leftovers.  Pasta can indeed by reheated and enjoyed – but only ONCE.  I wrote that in capital letters and will repeat: pasta can be reheated but only once.

Anyway.  The title of this pasta is Pasta Ulrika, in honour of my delightful niece from Sweden who was visiting.

Shame about the lack of photo to show how enticing this humble mix can be – but give it a try anyway, I think you’ll like it very much.