Today dawned cloudy with a bit of mist in the air, we are scheduled to have some really nice weather, but today is just grey. With all this time on my hands, I've been thinking about some of the adventures that Dr. C. and I have had, and the tours that I have led for students. I've written a manuscript, but so far no publisher....too many books on Italian food, too many big names writing, etc. That's fine, but somewhere I want to share some of these amazing dishes that we've had, and so I've decided it has to be here. I will include recipes, but probably not a lot of photos of prep unless they are essential.
|Forestiera La Planeta, Menfi, Sicily|
Last year, my friend Phillis and I took a group to Sicily for 10 days; it was so much fun to share this beautiful island with its magnificent scenery, food, wine, and people. One of my favorite places was La Planeta, a wine estate on the southern coast. This is the view from our room. After an amazing meal that night, the next day we loaded onto the bus, and drove about 30 minutes to one of their wineries. There are 5 wineries that they operate on different parts of the island, the climate, and topography defining the type of grapes.
We toured the winery, as you can tell it was quite cold and grey that day. The vines were just budding, with hardly any leaves. After our tour, we had a little aperitivo, and then headed into lunch.
With tours like this, we get to give the venue a list of allergies/vegetarian options, and then we are surprised by what happens next. This day, we were served what they call a timbalo (drum) It is grilled eggplant encasing pasta mixed with a glorious tomato sauce, and caciocavallo cheese. It is a spectacular dish and can be made ahead, popped into the oven, rests for about 15 minutes, then turned out for a spectacular presentation. Phillis and I tried to replicate it a few times at home, and finally think we hit the right note. Ours isn't exactly like the one we had at La Planeta but the good news is, this one is do-able whatever your cooking prowess is.
Phillis and Diane's Timbalo
5 eggplant, sliced 1/2-inch thick (skin on)
1 to 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (about 2 medium)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed, or pureed (we pureed)
½ teaspoon fresh oregano, rinsed and finely chopped or ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
10 leaves basil, rinsed, dried and finely chopped
1 pound short tubular pasta such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 pound sliced mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, finely grated
1. Toss the eggplant slices in a couple of teaspoons of sea salt and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes in the sink.
2. Meanwhile line a springform pan with aluminum foil and coat the inside with non-stick cooking spray.
3. Preheat the broiler. Line baking sheets with foil, lay the eggplant onto the foil brush with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until golden brown. Repeat using all the eggplant.
4. When cool enough to handle, line the pan with the eggplant, overlapping the slices slightly to cover the bottom and sides. Leave enough to make a layer in the middle and to cover the top. Leave longer slices on the sides to fold over the top when finished.
5. Bring 8 quarts of salted water to a boil.
6. Separately, in a large saucepan film the bottom with extra virgin olive oil, fry the garlic, onions and sundried tomatoes in the olive oil until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.
7. Add the crushed tomatoes, cover and cook for 30 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.
8. Add the oregano, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
9. Boil the pasta, cook for the amount of time indicated on the package minus about 3 minutes. Drain the pasta and mix with the tomato sauce. You want the pasta to be wet, but not drowning. We used about 4 cups per pound of pasta. Any leftover can be a serving on the side.
10. Pour half of the tomato pasta into the eggplant lined tin.
11. Top evenly with the cheeses. We cubed the cheeses.
12. Place a layer of sliced eggplant on top of the cheese.
13. Add the remaining tomato pasta.
14. Fold the long slices on the sides over the top of the pasta, filling in with the rest of the eggplant. Cover, cool and refrigerate, or bake as directed.
You can make this the day before and refrigerate, just take it out about 1 hour before baking.
15. Set the pan onto a baking sheet to catch any drips.
16. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and let sit for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate. Slice with a serrated knife into wedges. Serve any remaining sauce on the side.
Obviously, this dish is a celebration; it was served with a variety of salads, which made it a perfect meal. It is really an ode to the classic Sicilian pasta dish, pasta alla Norma, which is also delicious.
Planeta has some interesting wines, you can find them here in San Diego at Mona Lisa Deli.
So it's Wednesday, at least that's what my computer tells me; when it begins to lie to me, then I'll be in trouble. It looks like some things will begin to change here in California in the next few weeks. I'm in no hurry, being safe and well is much more important, but those who are out of work are suffering. If you can, try and support your local restaurants by buying gift cards, to-go food, or delivery. Every little bit helps to keep them in business. Stay well and stay home. Ciao for now.