Pasta alla Norma and the travel itch

 

The love to travel!!! I wonder sometimes if I was conceived while my parents were travelling.

To scratch a bit the travel itch (or to intensify it….I still can’t decide what the effect was) I started looking at pictures I took during some of my trips and a particular one brought back tasty memories – the trip to Sicily.

Sicily is one of those places where you don’t necessarily travel to visit historic places or to see natural beauties, but you go to stuff your face, you get your taste buds totally nuts.

I think I can place it next to my favourite foodies trips like Thailand, Greece in general and Crete in particular, Spain, France, Mexico or the rest of Italy. And this is not because Sicily doesn’t have to offer great natural wonders, just to mention here Mount Etna and you know that this island is simply gorgeous. The greek, roman, arab , french and spanish influences  make this island particularly interesting in terms of food, architecture or people.

One of my first encounters with food in Sicily was Pasta alla Norma.

This is one of the classic sicilian dishes, bringing together the amazing flavours of eggplants, tomatoes, basil and garlic.

The story of this dish says that it was compared by Nino Martoglio, an Italian writer and poet, which was impressed with the deep flavours of the dish, with the splendor of Bellini’s opera Norma. Bellini was sicilian himself, born in Catania, no wonder he could create such perfect sounds after eating such this kind of food.  Perhaps would I turn into a soprano if I would live in a place with such amazing flavours. Difficult to belive it as I have one of the worst voice I have heard, but its worth trying or at least dreaming :-)

The recipe is very easy and fast, getting you dinner in no time, the only down side is that you will be hooked on it for a while.

pasta alla Norma

serves 4

400 – 500 grams of casarecce or rigatoni

2 eggplants

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of chopped garlic

chilli pepper flakes

salt, pepper

1 can tomato paste or 8 chopped medium tomatoes

6-8 leaves of basil

ricotta salata

optional : chopped pistachio

Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the package.
Cut the eggplants into slices, salt them and let them rest for half an hour, to make sure they won’t turn bitter during cooking. Dry the eggplants with a paper towel and then cut the eggplant into small cubes.
In a pan heat olive oil, add the chopped garlic and the chilli flakes and saute for half a minute. Add the cubed eggplants and saute until golden. Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper to taste. One of the tricks I am using to make sure the sauce is not turning sourish is to add half a teaspoon of sugar and few drops of balsamic vinegar. Cook for about 10 minutes, Midway add chopped basil to the sauce.

Once the pasta is al dente, drain and toss over the tomato sauce. Give a quick stir and pour in a serving plate. Finish by grating some ricotta salad and chopped pistachios on top of it.
P.S. Big, big THANK YOU to Caroline of Patterned Plate for the Liebster blog award, more about it in a future post.

Papoutsaki, the most delicious shoes ever

The greek flavours are coming come back to my blog. This time in the form of papoutsakia. The little fancy shoes are great either as main dish or as an appetizer. This dish came to mind when I have seen the September challenge of the  Dulce Romanie Project . unfortunately, I couldn’t participate to this contest during the previous months even though I would’ve loved to do it, the proposed ingredients were simply great. This time, the dishes had to contain one of the following ingredients: eggplant and/or pear. As I couldn’t find any pears at the market and all the greek flavours that I encountered during my holidays in Greece were still fresh in my mind, I made some papoutsakia.

Papoutsakia consists mainly of stuffed eggplants topped with bechamel sauce.

The name – little shoes come from the fact that the eggplant sliced in half and stuffed with aromas, veggies and meat resembles some pretty shoes. Ok, ok  – not really Manolo Blahnik material, but pretty damn tasty ones.

papoutsakia

serves 2

Stuffed eggplants

2 large eggplants

1 big onion

2 garlic cloves

2 chicken breasts chopped in small pieces or 250 grams ground meat

one can of tomatoes or 300 grams chopped tomatoes

olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

salt, pepper, oregano

graviera or kefalotyri cheese

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop out most of the eggplant flesh using a spoon and a knife. Sprinkle the eggplant shells with salt and let them “sweat”for 10 minutes, Meanwhile chop the scooped-out eggplant flesh and cook them olive oil, in a pan over medium fire, until browned and wilted.

Separately, pat dry the eggplant shells and then grill them until they soften slightly without loosing their shape.

In a pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and over medium high heat, cook the onion until golden brown and soft. Add the garlic, cook it for 30 seconds and then add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 5-10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked. Add the cooked eggplant flesh, season everything with salt and pepper and then add the chopped tomatoes. Add the cinnamon, oregano, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 30-40 minutes until sauce has thickened. Remove pan from heat and set meat sauce aside.

 
Bechamel sauce

30 grams butter

30 grams flour

250 ml milk

1 egg

125 grams graviera or kefalotyri  cheese

1 half teaspoon nutmeg

salt, pepper

Melt the butter in a pan, over low heat, and as soon as it starts bubbling stir in the flour,  whisking constantly until the flour gets slightly toasted. Add in the milk and continue whisking for about 8–10 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove from heat, add 125 grams of graviera or kefalotyri  cheese and the egg. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Pre-heat the oven at 170-200C. Set the eggplant shells in a baking tray, spoon the meat sauce in the shells.  Spoon bechamel sauce over the shells, sprinkle graviera or kefalotyri  cheese (gouda  and parmesan cheese in my case, since I couldn’t find any greek cheese around) and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top of the eggplants reaches a golden brown colour and the eggplants are tender and cooked throughout.

Grilled eggplants, olive oil, garlic and feta cheese – greek flavours in a simple dish

Holidays are approaching slowly. One day seems like eternity, when it is the only thing separating you from a gorgeous greek beach. Tomorrow, I am flying to Greece and I my taste buds are  dancing for joy  – all that gorgeous greek food that they are going to enjoy soon. I can already hear the waves and feel the breeze and the hot sun on my skin.

In preparation for this trip, I made a dish that reminds me of Greece and of summer. It consists of few simple ingredients, that will give you a great summery dish.

grilled eggplants, with olive oil, parsley, garlic and feta cheese topping 

appetizer – serves 2

2 eggplants

3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

a bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped

6 tablespoons of good quality olive oil

1-2 red chilli peppers

salt and pepper

100 grams feta cheese

1 roasted red paprika

Start by grilling the eggplant, for 40 minutes or until it is cooked and soft on the inside  and the skin is charred. Set aside, allow to cool and remove the skin as soon as possible (this part depends on your tolerance to heat ).

Meanwhile roast some red paprika as well, following more or less the same process as for the eggplant. Chop the paprika in small cubes. Mix the garlic with parsley, red-hot chilli pepper, parsley, salt and pepper.

Place the eggplants on the plate, then cut them in quarters on the length. On top of the eggplants sprinkle on top some of the cubed red paprika, crumbled feta cheese and the oily concoction.

Serve warm next to a wedge of lemon.

Kali Orexi!