Monday, September 14, 2009

A southern girl

I realize that all I've been cooking lately is pasta, and that all of my recent posts have been based on pasta. It's not that I'm uninspired, I'd love to cook something else. But the truth is, Gian Luca has this huge deadline and basically he's been living in the lab. We've either been eating out quickly at campus restaurants, or eating on the lounge tables in the Science Library. So it's not that I don't want to cook, I just feel weird eating multiple courses while college students stare hungrily at us as they walk by. And pasta travels well. So, here's another one, I promise I'll cook something else soon.
Tonight's pasta was not thrown together, but rather, inspired by a dish that my mom used to make for the take-out section of her restaurant. She called it Sicilian Eggplant Casserole, although I am not quite sure why. Basically it was sliced eggplant, tomatoes, onions and dried black olives, drizzled with olive oil and oregano and baked in the oven. It was fabulous, but I'm not sure if it is authentically Sicilian.
My mother has never been to Sicily ( either have I). And honestly, I will probably never go there. I have nothing against Sicily, and I'm sure its amazingly beautiful, but frankly, I'm tired of defending other parts of Southern Italy.
My family is from the south and I am proud to be a southern girl. But the first thing people say when I tell them that we're from Southern Italy is, "Oh, Sicily?" Soon enough, I'm explaining that no, my family is not from Sicily, we are from Basilicata.

Basilicata is the small, almost forgotten region of Italy about 6 hours south of Rome. I always tell people that it is the arch of Italy's boot. It is bordered by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas and the Apennines mountains run right through the center of the region. Its two major cities, Potenza and Matera are slowly gaining tourism but, besides that, the region has not been explored by many Americans. But that's ok. I like that fact that I've been places that not too many others have been. My mom's town, Salandra, is pretty much my favorite place on earth (and, by the way, the setting of my novel-in-progress). The sunset in Salandra

Ok, sorry for the tangent. Back to the pasta. I was craving my mother's Sicilian Eggplant Casserole ( authentic or not) so I created a pasta dish inspired by it. Enjoy!

Sicilian Eggplant Pasta

1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 of one medium eggplant, cut in 1/8" cubes
4 Roma tomatoes finely diced
1/2 cup dried black olives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup ricotta salata ( or feta cheese)

Cook pasta in boiling salted water.
As the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and tomatoes and saute until the onions are translucent and the tomatoes have softened and start to break up. Add the diced eggplant, black olives, red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt and pepper. Stir and add one ladle ( about 1/2 cup) of the pasta water. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss.
Top with ricotta salata, or feta cheese.

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