Friday, September 28, 2007


Much as I love to cook, sometimes deciding what to cook can be a problem. The last few days I’ve been relatively unadventurous, but somehow the simple dishes I’ve prepared have hit the spot.

I wrote previously about our two decadent dinners featuring cheddar cheese in American dishes, but for the next few days I had fresh veggies that needed to be eaten, so this is what happened to the peppers and eggplant we bought at the market.

Spaghetti alla Norma sounded like a winner for lunch the other day, so I checked with my recipes for some guidelines. This is one of those dishes you really don’t need a recipe for once you know the basics. I laughed out loud when I looked at the
recipe I have on file though…….the first thing called for is “6 medium-sized eggplants, about a pound (500 g)”, and I thought "Wait a minute! It takes SIX eggplants to make a pound???” That sure didn’t sound right, so I pulled out my electronic kitchen scale and weighed each of the two eggplants. Not surprisingly, EACH eggplant weighed in at a pound each, and I’d say these were ‘average’ sized eggplants….well, average size for Italy anyway.

I remember when we were in Louisville and I was looking for fennel at Kroger. Man, those were the saddest, most pathetic looking fennel I’ve ever seen. I realize that we live in the ‘green heart of Italy’ where much of this wonderful produce is grown, but I think I’m just spoiled, not just for choice, but also for quality and size! Of course this sometimes mean we do without something when it’s not in season (like broccoli!), but in the end it’s a fair trade. So, back to lunch……

I peeled one of the zucchini and chopped it into small pieces, then threw it onto the griddle with some olive oil. While I had a few cloves of garlic simmering in oil in a deep skillet, I opened a large can of plum tomatoes and drained the juice, then chopped the whole tomatoes and threw them into the skillet, along with a little of the juice. I added some salt, pepper, just a pinch of red pepper flakes, the turned the skillet down to a simmer.

After all the eggplant was nicely browned, I put it all into a bowl, then started boiling a pot of water for the spaghetti. For a pound of eggplant you can use anywhere from 10 to 16 ounces of spaghetti. While the spaghetti was cooking I threw some chopped basil into the tomato sauce, simmered it for a few minutes more, then added the zucchini.

Once the spaghetti was al dente I drained it, making sure to reserve some of the water!, then added the spaghetti to the skillet with the tomato sauce and eggplant. Everything was mixed well, and I added a little of the cooking water to help everything bind together.

Each plate of pasta was topped with some roughly grated pecorino, but of course you can also use parmesan if you prefer.

We usually eat a bigger meal at lunch, then a smaller meal in the evening. I’d saved the rest of the tomato juice from lunch, since I hate to waste anything, and decided that I could put that juice to good use for dinner. I added some tomato paste to thicken it up a bit, threw in some salt, pepper and oregano, and voila! I had pizza sauce.

I mixed the dough for pizza and stuck it into the oven to rise for a bit while I chopped up some of the peppers and an onion. I took the casing off two pork sausages, grated some parmesan and sliced up the rest of the mozzarella that was left in the frig.

Although green peppers are common on pizzas in the states, here in Italy I don’t think I’ve ever seen peppers (which are called pepperoni in Italian) on a pizza! Maybe it was the novelty of having peppers on our pizza, or maybe it was a taste from the past, but wow! that pizza was really, really good!

Today I still had peppers left, plus more sausage. I thought about stuffed peppers, but decided to go simpler. Here’s where more American ingredients (more thanks to Jill and Larry for bringing this stuff!) come in. And of course I need to back up to explain……

When Marguerite and her family were here this summer we had dinner at their house….they cooked MEXICAN, so you know how happy we were!!! Anyway, Marguerite made some Spanish rice and I asked her how she’d made it. She told me here secret…..taco seasoning mix!!! One tablespoon added to each cup of rice while it cooked, then a bit of salsa mixed in at the end and once again, voila!....Spanish rice! Problem was, I didn’t have any taco seasoning mix, and the chances of finding any in Italy are slim to none. (Or possibly very, VERY expensive if I happened to find it at some expat/international food store)

Later in August when Jill wrote to ask if there was anything we’d like for them to bring to Italy, I knew that taco seasoning mix wouldn’t take up much room or
endanger their weight allowance. Last week we had lunch with Jill while Larry drove to Rome to pick up their guests, and ever since then I’d been itching to try to make Spanish rice. Grilled peppers, onions and sausage on a bed of Spanish rice sounded yummy, so that’s what we had for lunch today.

I chopped up the peppers and more onion and threw them into a hot skillet. After a few minutes I added more of the pork sausage, again removed from the casing.
The sausages I buy at the grocery here are simply ground pork…no peppers onions and sausage
seasoning added like in the states. And yes, it WAS yummy!

Now I just have to figure out what to do with that one last eggplant……

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At 9/30/2007 03:25:00 AM , Anonymous Judith in Umbria said...

No broccoli here yet, and none in much bigger Florence last week.

My sausages have stuff in them! Not too much of spices, but a lot of salt for sure. I'm told it is so they can be dried, since refrigeration was not available to most until mid-20th c.

I have found recipes for taco seasoning, taco sauce, enchilada sauce, etc. on line. I've only made the enchilada sauce and it was super. So if you are between baggage runs to-from the US, that's an alternate route.

This summer I was given a ton of different dried chilies, and that makes a big difference. It surprises me to find that a culture that cares so much about their food doesn't differentiate from one peperoncino to another.

At 9/30/2007 03:56:00 PM , Blogger chris & erin said...

We may just take you up on that offer for pizza in Umbria :) I added you to our blog list - I've been meaning to update several of those links and add new ones for a while now, so this gave me a good excuse!

At 10/01/2007 07:37:00 AM , Anonymous Dana said...

ugh - do you have to remind me of the sad state of the produce at my Kroger :(


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