Wait, we’re in Sicily already! Let me back up.
We departed directly from Puglia to Sicily, to arrive at the Trapani airport. A one luggage-carousel kind of airport, at a certain point I almost volunteered to go outside and help unload. Our friends, a Sicilian couple living in Milan, picked us up and took us directly to their “countryside” home, where his mother had been cooking, awaiting our arrival.
I was a little nervous about meeting her, as I am meeting all Italian mothers. I am first and foremost a foreigner, and Italians have some interesting impressions of American cuisine and customs. Luckily, we can often find a common appreciation through our love of food. And this was no different. Not only was she a lovely and welcoming woman, but she could cook like nobody’s business! S and I immediately discovered this week would be painful to our swimsuit-wearing waistlines.
The house was beautiful, perched on a hillside high above the valley with a glimpse of the backside of Monreale in the far distance. First I saw the view, and then I saw the terrace. Covered with a natural tree canopy, it was green and cool and such a shelter from the hot summer sun, surrounded on three sides by green.
Why can’t I have this in Milan?
Friends and various family members started to arrive, and we felt like honored guests as they greeted us with genuine interest. We brought out almost an entire suitcase worth of Pugliese cheese, taralli and other treats and contributed to the impromptu aperitivo before lunch as they took turns tending the grill.
One thing I really loved was the Sicilian Ammogghio, an infused oil mix or intingolo (dipping suace) to add some flavor to your meat after grilling. The classic ammogghio is made with garlic, fresh tomatoes and olive oil, but here they use a mix of olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, using the rosemary branches to brush it on the meat. Genius.
Francesco’s mother set a steaming plate of Pasta all Norma in front of me. The first bite of the eggplant had my eyes rolling back into my head. I, resigned sweet-tooth and candy lover, had found almost a substitute in her eggplant chunks. So sweet! I immediately decided to “defect” and stay in Sicily instead of returning north.
I saw some beautiful eggplants this weekend, and I think of Sicily and all the various ways we ate it that week. I don’t get tired of this vegetable – I stuffed an eggplant with rice and sausage last year and I pickled it recently.
Pasta alla Norma – Piccante / Hot
Note: I used some local hot pepper pecorino our Sicilian friends had given us. If you are using regular (salted) pecorino, you may want to add some hot pepper with the tomatoes instead.
2 round “Viola” eggplants
Pecorino “pepato” (with hot peppers)
Tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes
1/2 white or yellow onion
Spaghetti or penne pasta
- Peel the eggplant and chop it into rough chunks the size of a quarter (or 50 eurocents!), like cutting an onion. Layer the chunks with sprinkled salt in a colander for 2 hours. After, squeeze excess moisture from the eggplant in your hands and set aside.
- In a frying pan, fry the onion lightly in olive oil for a minute or two, until it starts to turn opaque. Add the eggplant, turning all chunks so they are thoroughly covered in oil. I added some oregano here ala Jamie Oliver. Arrange the chunks so they brown on one side for a few minutes before turning them and allowing the other side to brown (about 8-10 minutes cooking time).
- While the eggplant is cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Salt it well, then add your spaghetti / penne and cook according to directions. Drain the pasta but conserve some of the salted water in case you need to thin out the tomato sauce in the next step.
- Add the tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes to the cooked eggplant and simmer until thoroughly heated. Lower the heat, add small chunks of pecorino and basil and mix. Serve with a few extra chunks of pecorino on top.