Friday, March 9, 2012

"Welcome Around My Family Table" with "Caponata" & "Baked Tomatoes"

The Italian people are very serious about celebrating any type of family gathering. But what is even more serious to them is indulging in delicious foods which are prepared for these occasions. Foods that were passed down from generation to generation, are simple recipes made with the freshest ingredients, and you can feel the love that went into every special dish. So, come with me and enjoy the simple pleasures of Italian food. Welcome around my family table.

1950- From left: Grandfather Louis,
Grandmother Julia, Great-Grandmother
Sofia, & my Mom

My parents were both born in Brooklyn, NY to be exact, but some of my grandparents and great-grandparents were born in Italy. As a side note: also want to say a special “Happy Birthday” to my dad, whose birthday was February 9th, and my mom, whose birthday is March 10th. My parents are my heroes. They not only share their love of family and food but also their faith. No matter what life brings, they taught me to be strong and know that family and God is always there with love and support. So, I dedicate this blog post to my parents. Abbondanza!
My grandparent’s families on my mother’s side originated from towns called Caserta and Catanzaro. Caserta is located in the Campania region of Italy. Catanzaro, which is located south, in the Calabria region. The foods of these regions include fresh fish, homegrown vegetables, pastas, and pork.

My grandparent’s families on my father’s side originated from towns called Benevento and Castelvetrano. Benevento is an historic town in the hills of the Campania region, which is near Naples. Castelvetrano is located in the northern part of Sicily. Both regions have products that include wine, olives, tobacco, and fresh grown vegetables.

1952 From left: Grandfather Julius,
My Dad, Nanni, Front: My Mom
As you can see I have quite a colorful Italian background. I was very young when my maternal grandparents were alive, so I never heard any stories from them. My paternal grandfather passed when I was 20, and my paternal grandmother passed away when I was older, so I was able to get some information from her who we called “Nanni”. She would tell me stories of her life when she lived in Bayonne, NJ with her sisters and brothers, even some stories of her father making wine in the basement. Sadly, those times are gone now, but I can always have memories of my grandparents and try to honor them by continuing the traditions of family, food, and love.

I have two recipes this week to celebrate the regions in Italy, of both of my parent’s families. One is called, “Eggplant Caponata,” which is a traditional dish from Sicily. This can be served as a side dish or an appetizer on top of crisp Italian bread. The other recipe originated from Calabria, which my mom was taught how to prepare by her mother. This delicious side dish is called “Mama’s Baked Tomatoes”.
1. “Eggplant Caponata

1 large eggplant diced 1/2 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups of sliced onions
1 cup of diced celery
1 large clove of garlic-minced
1/2 cup of olive oil needed for sautéing
6 black olives & 6 green olives pitted and cut into slivers
3 teaspoons of drained capers
1/3 cup of golden raisins
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 15oz can of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon of dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pine nuts (optional)

Cook your cubed eggplant in a good amount of olive oil in a large pan on medium heat until it gets soft and brown about 5 minutes or so. Next, add some more oil if needed as you sauté onion, celery and garlic, about another 5 minutes. Combine tomatoes, olives, capers, raisins, vinegar, basil, sugar, salt, pepper, and pine nuts. (optional) Stir and let it simmer covered for about 10 minutes, just until all is soft and combined. At this point, chill or serve warm with crusty bread.

2. “Mama’s Baked Tomatoes

6 medium tomatoes (soft ones are better)
2 cups of plain dry bread crumbs (Progresso)
1/3 cup of Pecorino Romano Grated Cheese
3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons of dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons (plus) olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350° degrees F. Use a baking sheet and spray with Pam or coat with olive oil so tomatoes will not stick, then set aside. Cut tomatoes after washed in half diagonally. Then squeeze out the juice and the seeds, and place on baking sheet cut side up. Mix the bread crumbs with the basil, minced garlic, grated cheese, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add some olive oil and mix with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill. If you need more oil, put in a small amount each time until you get the right consistency. Now take your tomato and top each one with your bread crumb mixture, gently packing them down. Sprinkle with a small amount of oil evenly on top of each tomato half. Bake, about 30 minutes uncovered, until tomatoes are cooked, (soft) and mixture is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and let sit before serving.
Yield: 12 halves
Till Next Time………….

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