It’s funny the things that make you nostalgic.
It’s sticky hot here in Milan, and for the first time I won’t be going back to California for the summer. This time four years ago, I had already left California for Italy, and I made a pit stop in Spain since I had never been there. I planned my move here very badly, which is, hardly at all. I packed one (big) backpack and just flew away.
This snippet from my first post* after landing in Barcelona illustrates my lack of preparation beautifully: *I made posts from my first two years here private since they were written in a completely different way and before they really called it a “blog”
I haven’t been in Barcelona more than 3 hours and I’ve had a few adventures so far. I guess when you don’t plan…for anything…the unexpected happens. Barcelona airport is very confusing and when I was going to get my bags, I apparently didn’t see where I was going and ended up past customs outside with everyone else…and without my bag!! Now, if this was America, I would probably have been arrested trying to go back inside with a used boarding pass. Fortunately, the Spaniards were very friendly, if not pitying my stupidity, and let me back into the terminal to get my bag. It was going by just as I walked up. :)
I can’t fathom how that happened in the first place, but has anyone ever left the airport without even checking for their baggage? You’d think after my post about How to Avoid a Pickpocket I would be an extra careful person, but I have my moments. Arriving in a foreign country alone to live, maybe forever, with no one to meet me, no direction, no plan, no reservations beyond my first two nights…seemed like as good a time as ever to leave an airport without my bag.
I arrived at my final destination, Milan, directly after visiting Spain and spent a month or two pretty much alone – yes, that hot summer in 2003 when many people died in Europe, and I had a lot of time to reflect. I got used to dining and cooking for one.
I don’t think I could have predicted that I would be almost in the same place four years later, having moved several times around Italy, met and fell in love, got married, and came back to where it all started. Milan.
Melanzane sott’olio (pickled eggplant under oil) is what I associate with these hot summer nights in Italy. The heat from your sunburn mingles with the humidity, your skin is tight and sweaty at the same time. You’d take another shower but it would be the third that day and you’re not sure it’s helping anyway. You have an appointment in a few hours out with friends, and in the meantime, you avoid looking in the direction of your stove as you refuse to turn it on and add to the temperature inside. Instead, you pull out a few jars of melanzane sott’olio, some tomatoes, cold cuts and big slices of Pugliese bread and make tonight’s dinner: some fancy slices of pane e pomodoro.
Melanzane Sott’Olio della Suocera
This recipe, originating from my mother-in-law, is infinitely scalable, so though I am giving some measurements, remember that you can do it for as many eggplants as you have!
2 large eggplants
Wine vinegar (white or red)
Spices (oregano, crushed hot pepper, sage, parsley, etc.)
- Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice very thinly (peel if desired). I prefer rounds but many prefer to slice a big one lengthwise. If you have a mandoline, this would be a perfect time to use it! Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Put a weight on the slices to press down. I use a plate and a kilo or two of sugar/flour.
- Leave them overnight like this, or several hours during the day. Remove excess salt and squeeze them dry.
- In a large saucepan, bring a mixture of 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar to a boil. *NB: You only need a couple of inches of liquid since you’re going to be boiling in batches. You can also use 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 vinegar if you don’t have that much on hand. Include a few cloves of garlic in the water if desired.
- Cook batches of eggplant slices for about two minutes each, remove from the mixture and set aside. You can either leave to dry on an absorbent towel for 30 minutes or squeeze excess moisture from the slices directly.
- Use the best quality oil you can find, and begin to layer the oil and eggplants in clean jars with your selection of spices. I use some oregano and hot pepper flakes.
Important note: When I wrote about How to Make Hot Pepper Chili Oil, I mentioned botulism as a threat – in our house, we almost always eat the eggplant within the next two weeks (or sometimes immediately) so it’s not as much of a problem. Make sure you follow proper precautions.