Friday, August 9, 2013

“Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant” For “Ferragosto” And “La notte di San Lorenzo”

Buon Ferragosto! Ferragosto is a national holiday celebrated in Italy. It is held usually on August 15th. Initially, it was related to festivities that took place in the middle of the summer to mark the end of manual labor in the fields. Ferragosto, in Italy means it is time off from work, time to relax in the sun, and a great time to spend with your family and friends. If you happen to be in the city of any region in Italy on or around August 15th, be prepared to witness a quiet atmosphere. As you will see that mostly all the stores and tourist attractions are closed. But if you happen to go along the coast you will see hundreds of people at the beach, having fun, and relaxing. Some may be preparing cook outs for an incredible family feast, and waiting for some fireworks to begin.

The rest of the Italian people are either sleeping in or most likely in Church due to the fact that Roman Catholics commemorate this day of August 15th as a “Holy Day of Obligation” to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This means they celebrate and honor the rise of Mary up to Heaven to join her son Jesus, taking her place by his side to look after those of us remaining here on Earth. Many people have celebrations in the streets by parading a statue of Mary and praying to her for guidance and thanks. In some coastal areas, the seas are also blessed on Ferragosto, especially in fishing communities. Catholic prayers are said and the sea is sprinkled with Holy Water, with the sign of the cross over it. It is believed that to swim in the waters blessed on this day is a way of healing. 

Other Italians are camping out under the stars as this holiday often coincides with the peak activity of the Perseid meteor shower. Across Italy this night is known as “La notte di San Lorenzo” or the “Night of the Shooting Stars.” These shooting stars are also called Saint Lawrence’s tears, or Saint Lawrence‘s fire. This is to symbolize the sufferings of the Saint during his martyrdom, in the year 258. Scientifically, this phenomenon is due to the shower of meteors, which represent the debris left by the “Comet Swift Tuttle,” identified in 1862. Small fragments which are stationed in space come into contact with the atmosphere, resulting in an intense long glow with great speed. The falling of the stars is due to the passage, inside the Earth’s orbit, the asteroid belt of the constellation Perseus. If it is a clear night you may be able to witness a cascade of the falling stars at the rate of 60 or more per hour in the Northern Hemisphere. As with all meteor showers, the rate is greatest in the predawn hours, since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun scoops up more meteors as the Earth moves through space.

The way my family and many other Italian families honor any festival, activity or event celebrating a special occasion is through the glorification of food. Typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh vegetables, cold fruit, cold salads, cold pastas, and of course cold beverages.  Italian people look for cold foods to combat the heat of a hot August day. Many roadside stands sell watermelon and chilled fruit.

To those who have to work, those who are taking a rest, and for those who will celebrate with loved ones, I send my best wishes for a mid-August that is full of dreams and falling stars to see. I wish you a Happy Ferragosto!

My great-grandmother Sofia

My recipe this week is an Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant. This recipe was created by my great-grandmother Sofia. This yummy dish can be served hot or cold. I love it in an Italian roll eaten cold.

“Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant”

6 small eggplants (makes 12 half shells)
Olive oil
3/4 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 8oz cans of tomato sauce (Del Monte)
1/2 teaspoon of basil flakes (or fresh)
1 egg
1- 1/4 cups of bread crumbs (unflavored)
1/4 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°.

Till Next Time……………………………….........

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