Eggplant Parm with Catch Me If You Can Cheese

My next recipe comes from Sicilian Cookery and you could say it is a variation of eggplant Parmesan with a substitute of a cheese called caciocavallo which is a native cheese of Southern Italy.

The quest to find caciocavallo was the hardest part of making this dish and finding it caused a bit of a hiatus for my cooking goals. My first attempt to buy this cheese was at a specialty cheese shop where they just happened to run out the previous day. They ordered it again, but by the time I got there it was sold out. I had no idea this cheese was so popular. I decided to go to Whole Foods after that and ended up empty handed, thankfully Bristol Farms had some. I must have been lucky that day, because I looked for it again out of curiosity after making this recipe and it was M.I.A. in the cheese section.

Hopefully you’ll have better luck with that than I did.

What you’ll need

  • 3 eggplants
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes
  • 4 oz or 1/4 pound of caciocavallo cheese
  • 2 oz or 1/2 cup of grated cheese
  • 4 or 5 basil leaves

The first step is to prepare the eggplants by cutting them lengthwise into sections as evenly as possible. Then you will cut slits into the fleshy part of the eggplant and soak in salted water for ten minutes.

I wanted to look up the physics as to why salting and soaking is necessary for eggplants and ended up finding this useful article from the LA Times. According to Russ Parsons, it only makes a difference to salt if you are frying. He also feels for there to be a true impact, the soaking should take place for at least 60 minutes.

I have to say, I think Russ is on to something, because when I’ve salted eggplant for only ten minutes, it didn’t do much at all.

Whatever you decide, once you’ve soaked the eggplant, you will pat dry and then allow it to cool. While it is cooling, you can prepare the tomato sauce that will eventually go on top of our eggplant concotion.

To make the sauce, the first step is to prepare the tomatoes by skinning and chopping them. If you don’t recall the proper way to do this, what you need to do is cut x’s into the top of the tomato and then boil them for about a minute. Throw those boiled tomatoes on some ice and then the skin should peel off.  After that, you cut and set aside.

The next step for the sauce is to fry two whole cloves of garlic in oil. Remove the cloves once they’ve been sufficiently fried. I love garlic and didn’t want to remove them, but leaving fried garlic in sauce can make the sauce bitter. If you want to keep the garlic anyway, I suggest mincing the garlic and lightly frying. My mother always told me the longer you let a garlic fry, the more sugar you have to add later to sweeten the bitterness.

Food is like people sometimes.

Once the garlic is ready, whether you keep or discard, the next step is to add those chopped tomatoes. Do so and cook for 5-10 minutes while stirring and sprinkling basil, salt, and pepper to taste.

As the sauce cooks, cut the garlic and caciocavallo into pieces that will fit in the slits you made for the eggplant pieces.

Once the slits are stuffed, sprinkle with some basil and then top them off with tomato sauce. As long as the sauce is cooked, of course.

The final touch will be to sprinkle with grated cheese and oil and bake for 30 minutes on the 350 setting of an oven.

Once your time is up, you’ll have a tasty alternative version to eggplant Parmesan.

My final result turned out well enough. I prefer Parmesan when it comes to eggplant. Caciocavallo is a bitter and harder cheese than Parmesan. I feel it doesn’t compliment the eggplant in a way that I like. I prefer the delicious gooey texture of melted Parmesan that pulls apart like string cheese.

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Mmmm, string cheese

Have I mentioned that I love cheese lately? It’s important to tell the people things you love that you love them everyday. The little things count in this troubled world and the comfort of cheese is getting me through these troubling times every day.

Back to this dish, though. It was an enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t beat Parmesan for me and it’s not worth the effort and hunt to use caciocavallo, in my opinion. If you’re adventurous, definitely try it out. Life is too short to not try new things.

 

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Melanzane Alla Parmigiana aka Eggplant Parmesan

Here’s another Sicilian recipe from Sicilian Cookery. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite Italian dishes, so I was excited to make this.

I do have to warn the dear readers that eggplant is a fussy one-eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater. Wait. That’s something else….

Ok, so maybe it doesn’t fly and eat people, but it is purple, you could say it has one horn, and trust me when I tell you that it can be a difficult vegetable to cook.

I was going to seguue a joke about eggplant emojis, but I just found out Prince died. It just doesn’t seem right to do now. I mean Prince is not an eggplant emoji, but when it comes to purple beings you can’t deny that he reigns them all.

What would Prince have to say about all of this? I wonder if he enjoyed eggplant? I have a feeling he did. I mean it’s his favorite color and based on that pancake skit from Chapelle Show I have a feeling the man liked to cook.

So, Prince, I dedicate this purple recipe to you.

Here’s what you need for your Prince Eggplant Parm

  • 5 eggplants
  • 2 pounds of tomatoes
  • 1 pound of onion
  • 6 oz of Primosale cheese
  • 1 cup of grated cheese
  • basil
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for frying

Eggplant is kind of princess and needs special treatment, so the first step is to give it a nice salt water spa bath for 30 minutes.

Drain, rinse, and pat your princess dry and then fry her in some hot oil.

If you are like me and was never taught how to fry food, then you might need some help here. Even if you were taught how to fry food, eggplant can be troublesome. Eggplant soaks up oil like a succubus and that makes monitoring the frying process extremely difficult.

Soaking the eggplant in salt water is supposed to prevent the mass soaking of the oil, but in my case I soaked and that purple succubus still managed to suck my oil dry.

The internet tells me that larger eggplants seem to be more likely to do this, so I can deduce that if you have a larger variety then extending the soak to an hour will reduce the effect.

If you find that during the frying process that it’s still greasy and oily, my best advice is to blot out the oil with a paper towel as much as possible.

The time it takes to fry eggplant can take up to ten minutes. Again the internet told me this. I enjoy this cookbook, because it is authentic Sicilian food, but it’s not the best teaching tool for cooking. They leave out a lot of details like how long to fry the eggplant.

Since it does take ten minutes to fry, feel free to start cooking your sauce. Again, the cookbook doesn’t give you too many details about how to do this. All it says is “make some tomato sauce with plenty of basil.”

Yeah. I know.

Thankfully I was taught how to make my own sauce. So when I read that, I knew what to do. I’m going to assume that my readers might not though, so here is how you do that.

The first step is to cut an x on the top of your tomatoes listed above. Boil those tomatoes until the skin starts to peel. Once that happens, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water or place on a bed of ice. Ice is more ideal by the way. When the tomatoes have cooled, peel them and then cut into cubes. Place the tomato chunks in a pan and then cook until it resembles a sauce.

Feel free to add your favorite spices to the sauce as well. I stuck with just the basil because of the cookbook, but I ended up adding oregano and garlic later.

When the eggplant is fried and the sauce is cooked, you will bake. Oil a pan of your choice and place a layer of eggplant on it. Cover that layer with sauce and a layer of cheese. Continue this layering until everything has been used up.

Drizzle the top layer with oil and then bake for 15 minutes.

The final result is a simple eggplant Parmesan recipe that you can use as a base and later add your own personal preferences to it.

I, for example, doctored up my leftovers by adding different spices to my sauce and eating it with a side of spaghetti.

My initial tasting of this did disappoint me. This was because I didn’t properly fry my eggplant. It was greasy, spongy, and oily.

My leftovers were much better than my initial tasting thankfully. I think this was mostly because when I re-heated the eggplant it somehow diminished the oily, spongy texture.  The tweeks I made to the sauce also helped.

Anyway, I’d love to make this again but I’d probably be lazy and buy a jar of sauce and use mozzarella for some layers to give it more of a gooey stringy cheese texture.

So, so good, that gooey stringy cheese taste.

Sicilian Orange Salad

My next recipe from Sicilian Cookery is a refreshing orange salad that is simple and so easy to make a child monkey could do it.

All you need is 2 oranges, preferably, 1 blood orange and 1 other type, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

To fancy it up you can also add red onion, garlic, parsley, and olives. I fancied mine up and it was well worth it.

As I said, there’s not much to this recipe. The cookbook doesn’t even give you measurements really. This makes me laugh, because from what I gathered of the stories my mother told me, that’s an extremely Italian thing to do. Eyeballing measurements is their thing.

My Italian great-grandmother taught my Irish-American grandmother how to cook by this eyeball method. My mother and grandmother taught me how to cook some of their recipes in the same manner. I still remember when my mother taught me how to cook something for the first time. It was Tortellini Soup. She took my palm out, poured a bit of garlic powder on it and beamed as she told me about how her grandmother taught her how to cook this soup. Since I was a precocious child, I was like, “Mom! Shouldn’t you being using measuring tools?”

My mother was always amused by me, so she didn’t take offense. She just laughed at me and explained that cooking isn’t always a perfect science and that my great-grandmother’s generation knew that and for them their hands, ladles, and spoons were their measuring cups.

Thankfully I thought that was pretty cool. Still do actually. In fact when I make that soup, my measuring requirements are palm of garlic powder, one soup ladle of white wine, half a cup of  empty chicken broth can of water, the chicken broth, and two bay leafs.

So when you make this salad, you will cut the oranges into cubes, dice the garlic, and slice the onions. You will use one garlic clove by the way. For the onions, just eyeball it into a fairly even ratio with your orange cubes. Add these to olives that are also a fairly even ratio. Sprinkle some olive oil on it, however much seems appropriate to you. Then add a palm’s worth of parsley and pinch of salt and pepper.

Mix all of these ingredients together until everything is properly dressed.

The final result is a refreshing Mediterranean salad. I admittedly thought oranges and olive oil would be disgusting together but there’s something about the oil that calms and compliments the acidity of the orange.

On a side note, olive oil is the most miraculous cooking tool. I swear it’s good on everything and makes every gross vegetable actually appetizing. The only other thing that tops it is cheese.

We are talking about this orange salad today, though. So my final note, is that if you enjoy oranges and olives, this is the refreshing side dish for you. So as an Italian would say, “Just go on and eat it already! Whatta ya waitin for?!”

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Sicilian orange salad

Frittata Con La Ricotta, Sicilian for Ricotta Omelette

This recipe comes from Sicilian Cookery. I find it funny that in my last entry I confessed that I’m terrible at making omelettes and then my next recipe ended up being an omelette. Well, this omelette recipe was easy and yet not easy. I know that’s probably confusing my readers. Well, if it helps at all, I’m confused too.

On second thought, that’s probably not helping anyone. Story of my life, constant confusion. Constant confusion involving eggs and cheese.

As far as taste goes, I thought this turned out ok. It was a little weird for me.

This cookbook is making me sad. All my life, I’ve wanted to be a gorgeous, hot, sassy, Italian chick and yet I don’t like Sicilian food so far. What does that mean?! Am I not those things?! What am I going to do with my life?! What do I have to live for?!

Then again, Italians are opinionated little mofos. They all think their region has the best food and even in my small town, my mother said all the matriarchs complained about each other’s cooking. Northern Italians cook different from Southern Italians and Sicilians are a whole different ballgame as well. Even the Italian family I stayed with when I went to Rome had a rift about their cooking styles. The husband, Mossimo, was Roman and the wife, Nila, was Sicilian. One night Nila lamented to me that no one in her family liked her cooking. They complained it was too Sicilian. I love Nila, but I think I’m more Roman than Sicilian myself.

Anyway, to make this recipe you will need; 14oz of ricotta, 5 eggs, salt, pepper, and olive oil. You can also add parsley and grated pecorino.

Your first step is to coat your frying pan with the olive oil. No need to dump it, just put enough to cover the pan. Once the oil is warmed up, place the cheese in. You’re supposed to brown the cheese on both sides. Mine never seemed to brown and I got impatient. This was most likely a mistake I made. As I said in my last entry, I get impatient when I make breakfast.

Once the cheese has been browned, you add the eggs. Hopefully you already know that you have to beat the eggs first, but I don’t like to assume.

Guess what?! In this next step, I actually did something right! I waited the right amount of time to flip the egg! This is usually where I fail with omelettes. I get impatient and then it ends up becoming a scramble or a half omelette. The trick is to not be impatient, obviously, and to continuously swirl the pan so all the excess egg liquid gets cooked evenly. This cookbook also gave a great tip that I will share. They recommend turning the pan to one side and using a pot lid to help flip over the other side.

Hopefully, you won’t need any of this advice because you are an awesome person. I’m not, though. I need all the help.

After flipping, there’s not much else to do except to wait for the other side to cook. Once that’s done you can go ahead and eat your omelette.

I ended up putting parsley on my omelette, by the way. I mean this is an extremely easy and simple recipe, I figured I might as well add parsley to it.

As I said earlier, my final analysis is that it was ok. I think ricotta is too similar of a texture to mix with eggs. At least it was for me. It just gave it a slimy and strange sensation. I have to make another confession though. I’ve never been crazy about ricotta. I mean I like it just fine, but in the rankings of cheese, it’s on the low-end for me.

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Parsley and ricotta cheese omelette

Cavolfiore Fritto in Pastella (Sicilian for Fried Cauliflower)

This recipe comes from my Sicilian cookbook, Sicilian Cookery. I sadly don’t have much to say about this one. There are no major funny mishaps to talk about and I don’t have any good side stories. So I suppose I will get to the actual recipe.

What you need for this is 1 head of cauliflower, 1 cup of flour, 2 eggs, 1 anchovy, and oil for frying. I should note that I did not use any anchovies when I made this. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I loathe anchovies. So, feel free to give that a try, but anchovies and I are finito.

I feel somewhat guilty about not liking them, though. I’m a quarter Italian and half of that is Sicilian, but I hate anchovies. Anchovies are all over this cookbook. I’m starting to wonder if my Sicilian ancestors were kicked out of Sicily because they also hated anchovies. My only other theory is that my German and Irish ethnicity overtake my tastebuds whenever I give anchovies a shot. I do really like potatoes, sauerkraut, and bratwursts afterall. Who knows? It’s an ongoing investigation.

The first step in making fried cauliflower is to boil your cauliflower in salted water. Once boiled, you drain the water and break off the cauliflower into florets. While your cauliflower is boiling, you can make your batter, which consists of the eggs and flour. Do this by beating the eggs first and then slowly sprinkling in the flour. Continue to beat the mixture, keeping it nice and smooth. The next step is to add the anchovies, bleh! If you do, cut the anchovies first into small pieces and then beat them along with the flour.

You should have a nice smooth anchovy batter after that, which you will use to dip and smother your cauliflower with. I struggled with this part because the batter stuck more to my hands then the cauliflower. If I were to do this over again, I would have probably dipped my hands in some flour to prevent this. This was something I was aware of, but did not do for some reason. So, silly me.

Hopefully you’ll have more success with this. Either way, once the cauliflower is dipped in batter you are going to fry them in canola oil until they are a nice soft brown. I did not fry mine very well, but it was still tasty. I like cauliflower unfried though, so I wasn’t disappointed. Despite that, this recipe probably wasn’t a success for me. Frying is not my forte, but oh well, that’s what fast food restaurants are for.

Semi-fried cauliflower

Semi-fried cauliflower

Conquering Artichokes via Frying

No, not another artichoke recipe! AHHHHHHHH!

This artichoke recipe comes from Sicilian Cookery and in Sicilian (wink, wink) it’s called Carciofi Fritti in Pastella aka Batter-fried Artichokes.

I considered cheating and just buying artichoke hearts, but I thought I’d give the artichoke another shot. I will not be giving artichoke like boyfriends more shots though. Screw that nonsense.

I bought my artichokes from Trader Joe’s. They had a nice cheap package of four and that just happened to be what the recipe called for. When I opened that package they had helpful tips on how to cook an artichoke. They claim it’s easy. I disagree Trader Joe’s. Quit lying.

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I love you Trader Joe’s, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.

For this recipe, the first step is to make your frying batter. This consists of white flour, a pinch of yeast, a couple of eggs, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Before you add all those other ingredients, however, you get the flour going first. Meaning, you add water in the flour to get it all thickened up. Once that’s done you add the yeast and once that has dissolved, you add the egg. Beat the egg with the flour until the consistency is smooth. Once it’s smooth you sprinkle in the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and commence mixing. After everything is mixed, you leave to rest for a half hour.

While you wait for your batter, you then “easily” prepare the artichokes by stripping the spiky layers off. I wasn’t sure how far to strip the layers, honestly. I almost stripped them completely, because most of it is spiked to me, but the recipe didn’t say artichoke hearts. So I wasn’t sure how far to go. I ended up keeping a few of the leaves. However much you strip, once you strip, you cut into wedges and then blanch in water with lemon juice for five minutes.

If you don’t know what blanching means, it’s basically steaming the vegetables in boiled water for a short period of time.

After the artichokes have been blanched, you drain, dip them in the batter and then fry those suckers in olive oil.

I had a hard time getting the batter to stick to my artichokes. I’m not sure if that’s my fault or if that’s just the way the batter is. The frying process went better than in my past frying experiences. I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to fry. I know the temperature has to be just right and that there are tricks to test that, but I haven’t tried them out yet. I plan on doing so next time.

The end result of the artichokes overall was good, but some of the leaves were too crunchy to eat and I had to spit them out. The hearts were the best part, as it goes with artichokes.

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Fried Artichokes

Eggplant Caponata

My next recipe comes from a Sicilian cookbook that my sister bought for me while she was in Sicily. She got to go on a Mediterranean cruise with my aunt. I was very, very jealous of this because I had wanted to go but couldn’t because of school. I did get to go to Italy eventually, however. My aunt took me on another visit where I even got to meet my distant Italian relatives.

My Italian side is from a small town called Fontana Liri, which is south of Rome and the birthplace of a famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. I’m guessing you don’t know who that is, but you’ve probably seen his face. He is the lead actor in La Dolce Vita.

Fontana Liri is gorgeous as you can see from my picture below. My relatives didn’t speak any English, but we had an Italian friend who translated for us. They were extremely nice and accommodating. A lot of relatives came over for a family dinner where we were served Spaghetti alla Carbonara as well as some other amazing Italian foods. After dinner the male relatives gave me a shot of grappa which I found to be very strong. Grappa is supposed to help you digest a meal which is why it is served after dinner. My face after sipping it was very comical to my male relatives. I didn’t understand what they said to me, but I knew they were teasing me about it.

I mean look at this place!

The reason I’m mentioning all of this is because the paternal side of my family migrated to Fontana Liri from Sicily. Which means I’m part Sicilian which is one of the reasons my sister knew that I would love a Sicilian cookbook. I have always been a bit obsessed with my Italian heritage. I tend to be a little jealous of people who have more Italian blood than me.

Unfortunately my blood is not Sicilian enough to appreciate anchovies. Sicilians love anchovies and most of the recipes in this book contain those salty, weird little fishes. I hate anchovies. I tried them once. Never again.

Thankfully Eggplant Caponata contains no anchovies at all nor is it difficult to make. You fry the eggplant in a pan for a bit and then you add sliced onion, olives, and capers. Saute that for a few and then you add a little bit of tomato sauce, basil, and a pinch of sugar and vinegar.

I prefer to eat this side dish warm, but it is traditionally served cold. I prefer most of my food warm. I’m very American like that. No disrespect to my Sicilian ancestors.

This is also traditionally a side dish, but for my leftovers I got creative. I used it as a topping on some brauts and I made a baked veggie sandwich with parmesan cheese. I’m sure people will question the decision of putting eggplant on a sausage, but trust me, it was actually pretty good. The sandwich, however, is a no-brainer good idea. At least I think so.

The caponata being sauteed.

The caponata being sautéed.

Eggplant Caponata!

Eggplant Caponata!