Actually, I’ve forgotten what I was saying back in July when I posted my last blog.
“What have you been doing?” you ask.
Thank you for asking. I wish I could report that I have been attending a Tuscan cooking school mastering traditional culinary techniques or traveling the Italian countryside searching for new and better authentic recipes to share with you; but alas, the truth must prevail. While I have been busy with other activities – much more so than I originally planned – the primary reason for my absence has been (frankly) a lack of good ideas!
I have mentioned before that I grew up in Olean, New York, south of Buffalo and a few miles north of the Pennsylvania state line. My father grew up in Bradford, a few miles south of Olean in Pennsylvania. Both communities have always enjoyed a substantial Italian presence, but if there was an award for the best annual Italian festival it would go to Bradford. As a child and together with Grandma Karen, I have enjoyed a myriad of home cooked (read: prepared by real Italian grandmothers) ethnic treats at Bradford’s Festa Italiana, held every August.
One of those special treats many years ago was an eggplant sandwich prepared by one of my second cousins, which she sold from her parish church’s food stand. It was a portable version of her equally special Eggplant Parmigiano – perfectly breaded and cooked eggplant slices, a rich and spicy tomato sauce, and the requisite Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I still remember the intricate flavors and textures. Sadly, despite desperate pleas and outright bribes, she steadfastly refused to share her secret recipe.
Walking by a huge table of freshly picked eggplant at my favorite Italian market (Cantoro’s in Livonia, Michigan) a few months ago, I decided to recreate my cousin’s recipe. Armed with a half-dozen melanzani, my vivid memories, and some online research, I ventured forth. After several trials, I learned that the breaded eggplant slices could be baked or sautéed with nearly equal results. (I prefer the sautéed version because it is faster and involves extra virgin olive oil.) I used my favorite tomato product, 6 IN 1 brand Ground Tomatoes, as the basis for my sauce and was not disappointed. Seasoned with some onion, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper, it enhances the subtle flavors of the eggplant and cheese without overpowering them.
So, with a certain measure of pride and relief, I have added my version of Eggplant Parmigiano to this recipe collection. It is not my cousin Almeda’s recipe, to be sure; but rather it is my way of recognizing her culinary talents and Italian stubbornness; plus, she helped me end my blogging drought!!