I have another confession. Forget shoes. I am addicted to cookbooks. And if I must point fingers, I lay the blame solely on the doorstep of Amazon Prime. That damn ‘Buy with 1-click’ button. How my eyes twinkle knowing that my new treasures will arrive promptly in 2 days. Just as I hope to escape with perhaps only 1 new cookbook, their dastardly ‘Inspired by Your Browsing History’ section sucks me in with the thought of exciting new recipes or food photography at which to marvel…all to be ordered with the click of one very little button from wherever my travels may take me. Even though fortunate enough to have been left with floor to ceiling book shelves after a remodel, those shelves continue to be stuffed with cookbooks, cooking magazines, travelogues, travel journals such that I find myself having to stack new treasures in front of the rows behind. Sigh.
Ever since the wonderful Judy Witts Francini posted the first photo of the soon to be released cookbook by famous Casa Planeta in Sicily, I knew it belonged in my cookbook collection. I have a weakness in my heart for all things Sicilian. At first sight, I bolted to Amazon to see if I could order. No where to be found. Showing immense restraint, I checked back about a month later and YES, there it was…but only as a pre-order. So I waited less-than-patiently. My UPS driver came and went. Now lest you think I spend my days peering through the window waiting for my UPS driver, I actually can hear the squeal of his tires upon my drive – who needs to waste time peering out windows? 🙂
Curled up on the couch with a cozy blanket and glass of vino, I cracked the cover. Like a warm blanket, this cookbook did not disappoint. The recipes made my heart smile with memories of both old family dishes (my mother’s family originated in Sicily) and long, lazy days spent near Taormina dating Danielle after my divorce (A Story For Another Day). I dog-eared page after page. However, my smile grew 10 times that day when I saw the photo of Melanzane Ammuttunate (Stuffed Eggplant). I instantly was transported to a late summer day in Sicily. A simple Sunday dinner shared with Danielle at a friend’s house in the hills near Etna. Friends we had stopped to visit and had insisted we stay. 2 more chairs pulled from other rooms, 2 more plates added to the table. Mama cooking away in the kitchen. The conversation was in rapid fire Italian/Sicilian, mostly directed at me as the only American, at which I could only stare wide eyed back in return. Mama, still firing away in Sicilian, pulled me into the kitchen to see the fruits of her efforts. And there beneath a huge lid, lay beautiful thick, smoky eggplants floating gently in an ocean of tomato sauce. Let me repeat that – THICK, SMOKY EGGPLANTS FLOATING GENTLY IN AN OCEAN OF TOMATO SAUCE. Mmmmmmmm. Even if I had understood all the dialect, it would not have mattered. My mind was on the soon-to-be-served meal. And then a dish of eggplant appeared before me – bathed in an ethereal light (ok, not really – made that part up). As I tore into that beauty, I realized the beautiful eggplant was stuffed with oozy cheese. At that moment, how I loved my dear Italian boyfriend with all my heart (side note – the food unfortunately was unable to sustain the relationship for much longer).
So upon seeing this dish in the cookbook, I melted. Life had moved on and honestly, I hadn’t thought about that dish for years. But now, having brought back such a wonderful food memory, I knew it would be the first recipe I would make. I can’t honestly say if the eggplants were stuffed in the same fashion or prepared exactly the same way – I DO know that the combination of the creamy eggplant, the oozy cheese and the tasty tomato sauce will absolutely make your heart melt with happiness.
Grazie mille, Casa Planeta, for bringing back this wonderful memory. Buon appetito!!
Melanzane Ammuttunate (Stuffed Eggplant)
From Sicilia, The Cooking of Casa Planeta, 2014
- 4 eggplants
- 1 1/2 quart tomato sauce
- 9 ounces Caciocavallo cheese (I substituted provolone)
- 1 ounce mint leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the eggplants in half. Use a knife to make several holes in the skin. Fill each hole with the mint leaves and some small pieces of Caciocavallo cheese, careful to push the ingredients well inside the eggplant. (I made about 8 slits per each half of eggplant.) Flour the pulp side of the eggplant.
Put some olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, put in a few of the eggplant halves and fry quickly. When all the eggplant halves have been fried, transfer them to a large saucepan, pour in the tomato sauce, and cover with a lid. Cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes.