Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Happy 4th of July" Italian Style

Italy, does not celebrate July 4 th as the United States does, but they do celebrate on June 2, which is like our July 4 th. It is called Republic Day or “Festa della Repubblica.” This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy (1861-2011). On this day, Italian’s celebrate and honor the anniversary that Italy became a republic.

Back in the United States, this weekend is called Independence Day, which is celebrated on July 4 th and is often known as “the Fourth of July.” It is the anniversary (235 years) of the publication of the Declaration of Independence.

How it all began was in 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2,1776, the Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4,1776. John Adams the husband of Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her how the day should be celebrated. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations” throughout the United States. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, died on July 4,1826 - exactly 50 years after the declaration.

What and how we celebrate the birth of our Nation is by a day of family celebrations with picnics and barbecues, showing a great deal of emphasis on the American tradition of freedom. Many people display the American flag outside their homes or buildings and many communities arrange fireworks that are often accompanied by patriotic music. The most common symbol of Independence Day is the American Flag. Other symbols related with July 4 th are the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York and Macy’s fireworks viewed all over the United States.

I remember when I was a young girl, we always had the whole family over for a BBQ on July 4 th. However, our BBQ’s were a little different from the traditional American family. Coming from an Italian American family, this is what my Mom would serve in the summer for our BBQ’s. We would have the grilled steaks, sausages and hamburgers, but we would also have some type of pasta either lasagna or baked Ziti. Oh, and don’t forget that our day started out with some antipasto and cheeses, with crispy sliced Italian bread in a big wicker basket. Some side dishes to enjoy with our grilled meats were vegetables like homemade eggplant parmesan, fried veggies, juicy ripe red tomatoes and if sausages were on the menu there was always red and green peppers with sweet onions in a huge bowl. Our family always enjoyed cold crisp salads, from a mixed green salad to beets and string beans mixed with a sweet balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then if that were not enough, fruit would be served, like juicy watermelon, sweet cherries, peaches and plums. As we would watch the fireworks in our neighborhood, we would enjoy the desserts, pies, cakes, cookies and sweet creamy Italian pastries with black coffee or tea. I also remember that my Dad would always buy a few packages of sparklers and when it got dark, he would light them and watch us as we swirled them around in the sky. This is the way my family celebrated our nation’s birth.

Grandmother Julia, Great-Grandmother
Sofia, & my Mom (1950)
The recipe for this weekend is an Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant. This recipe was created by my great grandmother Sofia and passed it down to my grandmother Julia and then she passed it down to my mother Madeline, who now has passed it down to me. This recipe would also be served along side of a great BBQ. As you know, the Italian American people helped build this country so I thought I would honor our Independence with this very appetizing dish. I hope that you enjoy your weekend with your family no matter how you celebrate July 4 th.
Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant

6 small eggplants (makes 12 half shells)
Olive oil
¾ tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 8oz cans of tomato sauce (Del Monte)
½ teaspoon of basil flakes (or fresh)
1 egg
1 ¼ cups of bread crumbs (unflavored)
¼ cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)

Cut eggplant lengthwise in half and scoop out the inside of the eggplant. Cut scooped out insides into bite-sized pieces. Put scooped out shells in some salted water to par boil. Put just enough oil to cover the bottom of a 3-quart pot. Heat and sauté minced garlic. Then add tomato sauce and stir. Next, put in the cut up insides of the eggplant with salt/peeper and let cook until soft. (not mushy). Add water if needed. After they are cooked, remove from the heat and cool off a little. Combine the egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and basil flakes, and mix well. Now add to the combined mixture the cut up cooked, cooled eggplant insides. Drain eggplant shells in colander. Put a small amount of tomato sauce on bottom of baking pan. Now fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place in baking dish. Put tomato sauce on top of stuffed eggplant. Also, add a small amount of water to bottom of pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350° Can be eaten as a side dish either hot or cold.

Wine: Zinfandel is my recommendation for wine, which goes well with eggplant, and grilled or barbecued meats. It is a full-bodied, dark red wine with blackberry and a peppery balance. This wine complements hearty, spicy foods and does not overpower the flavors of the food.
For my readers that are looking for answers to last weeks crossword puzzle find it here:
Hope that you had fun with the crossword.

“ Happy 4 th of July everyone!” Until next time……..
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