Here is another of Francesca’s delightful dishes, my girlfriend Alyne’s mom, a specialty from her Sicilian homeland. She prepared these for a whole crew of us some twenty five years ago and its taste is still vibrant in my memory, a memory I take much pleasure in recreating each summer.
Luckily, come August through to September, we can purchase this smaller, rounded variety of eggplants, the blue Sicilian eggplant, at our local farmers’ markets. They are practically seedless, hence no bitterness. Choose firm but light ones that have received just the right amount of sunshine and humidity, as per Lino from Birri at the Jean-Talon market. Their colour can vary from lilac to a darker purple hue.
This may be a tad labour intensive but, oh, so worth the effort.
12 tablespoons of olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 lbs of fresh, ripe italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano or Roma varieties
2 tablespoon of sugar
Sea salt and pepper
4 blue Sicilian eggplants
4 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered into tiny daggers
2 ounces of parmigiano reggiano slivered into tiny daggers
A handful of basil leaves
Lemon zest shavings
First make a batch of plain tomato sauce which will later be used to poach your eggplants whole.
Wash and cut the Italian tomatoes in two. Hollow out the center (seeds and fibrous core but keep the thick fleshy exterior), then cut in smaller pieces. Heat olive oil in heavy bottom pot, one that can later contain all eggplants in one row. Add garlic and stir till golden. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Peel the blue Sicilian eggplants, but leave the stem, which will help hold together the eggplant. Make incisions half inch deep all around the eggplants with a sharp knife. Then insert the slivers of fresh garlic and parmigiano reggiano in every incision. Make sure they are inserted deep enough not to protrude.
Heat olive oil in a pan. Brown garlic and parmigiano-studded eggplants under medium high heat till golden on all sides. Transfer to the pot and immerse eggplants in the fresh tomato sauce. Poach eggplants for two to two and a half hours, depending on the size of your eggplants, under low heat. Add basil leaves midway.
Carefully remove each eggplant with a laddle and slice thickly. It ought to be as tender as silk.
Serve eggplants as a side dish with some of the tomato sauce (save the rest for another italian feast) or with pasta that you will have tossed in some of the eggplant-infused sauce, sprinkled with a little more parmigiano reggiano, a few drops of your best olive oil, a shaving of lemon zest and some ground pepper.
To die for.
P.S. J’espère que mes lecteurs francophones ne m’en veulent pas d’inclure certains articles en anglais. Ceux et celles qui me connaissent savent que mes allers-retours entre le français et l’anglais sont aussi naturels que ces aubergines bleues siciliennes. Si vous désirez cette recette en français, dites-le moi. Un grand merci.