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Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant

In Appetizers / Starters, Vegetables On August 12, 2017 0 Comments

I’ve been making this eggplant recipe since I was 9 years old and living in Campania!

My Nonna (grandmother) used day-old bread and eggplant pulp – diced and fried. She then mixed the breadcrumbs, fried eggplant pulp, eggs, Pecorino-Romano cheese and other basic ingredients. This became the stuffing which was placed back into the shells and deep-fried.

Wondering how the eggplant is stuffed and baked? Read on… it’s worth it! No restaurant serves Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant.

Prep time: 30 minutes (for frying & cooling) & 30 minutes (for baking)
Makes: 12 servings (leftovers store in airtight container in refrigerator up to 5 days)

Ingredients:
6 Japanese eggplant (small eggplant)
1.5 tablespoons salt
1 quart safflower or sunflower oil
1 day-old Italian bread or French baguette (outer skins cut & discarded) & crumbled with hands
6 large eggs, beaten
1 to 1-1/3 cups grated sharp, imported Pecorino-Romano cheese
6 large basil leaves, finely chopped
Dash grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Garnish for the Non-Baked Version (in photograph below):
5 to 7 cherry tomatoes or home grown San Marzano tomatoes
5 to 6 fresh basil leaf sprigs, for garnish

Garnish for the Traditional, Baked Version with Tomatoes (in above photograph):
One 32-ounce can diced San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, sliced into 3 to 4 pieces
5 to 6 fresh basil leaf sprigs, for garnish

Cut the Eggplant:
1. Rinse and pat dry the eggplant with paper towels.

2. Remove and discard top end with leaf/stem.

3. Vertically cut the eggplant in half.

4. Take one cut half, insert pointed tip of sharp knife 1/8-inch inside eggplant shell.

5. Using knife tip, cut around the pulp until it comes out in one piece – this may take a little practice.

6. Cut pulp vertically into 1/2-inch strips. Cut strips into 1/2-inch cubes.

7. Set eggplant cubes aside in a colander.

8. Repeat cutting procedure with remaining eggplant. Set aside in colander.

Salt & Fry the Eggplant:
1. Sprinkle the salt all over eggplant cubes in colander & gently toss with hands; let eggplant drain in colander set over a bowl for 20 minutes.

2. After 20 minutes, using cooks’ plastic gloves, take a handful of eggplant cubes and squeeze out the bitter juices over a sink; set eggplant cubes aside in a bowl.

3. Repeat squeezing out the bitter juices with remaining eggplant cubes.

4. Pour the sunflower or safflower oil into a 12-inch frying skillet (preferably stainless steel, as this heats up quickly).

5. Heat the oil.

6. When oil is hot but does not smoke, test one eggplant cube by gently lowering it into oil. If it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready.

7. Fry the eggplant cubes in 2 to 3 batches – eggplant cubes should turn golden brown (not dark brown).

8. Transfer fried eggplant batch to a paper towel-lined platter.

9. After transferring first batch, cover it with paper towels & lay the second batch over them. Repeat with third batch.

10. When eggplant is fried, let it cool so that it is warm to the touch – about 10 to 15 minutes.

11. Save the oil and skillet for frying the stuffed eggplant later.

Prepare Stuffing:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Place the crumbled bread & the fried eggplant cubes in a 12-cup mixing bowl; set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, using a whisk or a fork, beat the eggs with 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese.

4. Gently stir the egg-cheese mixture into the breadcrumbs & eggplant in bowl.

5. Add the chopped basil leaves, dash nutmeg & black pepper.

6. Taste some of the stuffing & check it for cheese level. If needed, add remaining 1/3 cup cheese & a little salt.

Stuff the Eggplant Shells:
1. Divide the stuffing into 12 portions – you may be able to do this visually.

2. Place a portion of the stuffing inside eggplant shell, gently patting it down. It should look a little rounded on top. Set the stuffed eggplant shell, face up, on a platter.

3. Meanwhile, stuff the remaining eggplant shells, setting them aside on the platter.

Fry the Eggplant:
1. Reheat the oil in skillet. When oil is hot but does not smoke, gently and carefully lower one stuffed eggplant, face down, into oil. Repeat with a few more stuffed eggplants until they fit comfortably in skillet (about 5 pieces).

2. Fry the eggplant for about 3 minutes; check underside with a spatula. If eggplant is not golden brown, fry it for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, checking occasionally.

3. When eggplants look golden brown on bottom, using 2 large forks or 1 fork and a spatula, gently turn them over; fry the shell side for 3 to 4 minutes.

4. At this point, you can serve the stuffed eggplant without baking it – it will be drier than the traditional, baked version:

For this Non-Baked Version, transfer stuffed eggplant to a platter and garnish with fresh tomatoes & basil sprigs:
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For the Traditional Baked Version with Tomatoes (featured in photograph at the top of this page):
1. In a 16X9-inch Pyrex baking dish, spread out half of the canned, diced tomatoes.

2. Sprinkle olive oil over tomatoes, followed by salt and garlic.

3. Lay the stuffed eggplant over the tomato mixture in Pyrex dish.

4. Evenly spread the remaining diced tomatoes over stuffed eggplant in Pyrex dish. Add a dash of salt.

5. Cover the eggplant tightly with aluminum foil & bake on a rack set in center of oven for 30 minutes.

6. After 30 minutes, transfer the Pyrex dish with eggplant to a rack or trivet on kitchen counter.

7. Let the stuffed eggplant cool down for about 10 minutes.

8. You can serve this Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant as an appetizer (by itself) or as lunch/dinner, accompanied by a green salad on the side.
Buon Appetito!

Italian Wine Pairings: Greco di Tufo (white wine) or Aglianico (red wine). Both wines are from the area of Naples in the region of Campania, Italy.

Text & Photographs ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Chard, Celery & Onions (Acquacotta – Italian)

In Appetizers / Starters, Vegetables On July 15, 2017 0 Comments

Acquacotta literally means “cooked water” and is one of the classic vegetable soups of Tuscany. This dish is made with simple ingredients – chard, onion and celery. Acquacotta is served over fresh slices of bread and chilled white wine. You can’t ask for a healthier or more delicious appetizer!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 bunch fresh, Swiss chard (green or red)
3 celery stalks
1 small brown or white onion
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and grind black pepper, to taste
6 to 8 slices Italian or French bread

Directions:
1. Trim and discard the stems from the chard.

2. Cut chard leaves into 3-inch pieces wash leaves and spin-dry (do this 3 times to ensure all dirt particles are gone).

3. Peel the celery stalks and chop them into 1/2-inch pieces; set aside.

4. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Cut each onion half into thin slices.

5. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high setting.

6. When oil is hot, add the celery and onion; stir-fry until onion is translucent and light golden.

7. Toss in the chard.

8. Using tongs, gently mix celery, onion and chard together.

9. Cook the chard mixture on medium-high heat until chard has wilted (it should look almost raw).

10. Add salt and ground black pepper, to taste.

11. Place the bread slices on a serving platter; divide the Acquacotta evenly over bread slices. Serve immediately.
Text & Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Pico de Gallo & Bean Tostadas (Vegan)

In Appetizers / Starters, Fun Foods, Holidays, Vegetables On May 1, 2017 0 Comments

Thinking of a quick, no-brainer recipe for Cinco de Mayo? Make these organic & delicious vegan tostadas. You’ll probably have to double or triple the recipe because these starters will vanish in no time!

Be sure to use Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans®. This bean product contains meat or animal fat products. Anything you make with these beans will taste wholesome and natural.

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (with pulp discarded)
1/2 cup finely-chopped red onion
1 teaspoon finely-chopped Serrano chile pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (you may add more, to taste)
1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh cilantro leaves
One 15.4-ounce can Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans®
12 blue or yellow corn, flat tostada shells
Avocado slices (from 1 avocado), optional
1/2 cup grated, dry cheese (Cotija, Parmigiano Reggiano or other variety)

Make Pico de Gallo Salsa:
1. In a 1 to 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, onion, Serrano chile pepper, salt and cilantro leaves. Taste and adjust chile pepper & salt levels.

2. Set Pico de Gallo aside, covered.

Warm Up The Refried Beans:
1. Meanwhile, transfer the refried beans to a small saucepot.

2. On medium-high setting, warm up the beans, stirring constantly.

3. As beans warm up, if consistency is too thick or dry, add a little water.

Assemble Tostadas:
1. When beans are hot, spread about 2 tablespoons on each tostada set on a serving platter.

2. Top the beans with 2 tablespoons Pico de Gallo Salsa.

3. If desired add 1 or 2 thin slices avocado, followed by a sprinkle of grated cheese.

4. Serve with Margaritas or Tequila shots – Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Text & Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Italian Breadsticks (Grissini)

In Appetizers / Starters, Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings On April 22, 2017 0 Comments

I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed Italian breadsticks, aka grissini. Some grissini are soft, while others are drier. But no matter where you’ve had grissini, the homemade ones are best. Here’s our favorite family recipe!

Active prep time: 8 minutes (dough mixing) and 25 minutes (shaping breadsticks)
Inactive prep time: 15 minutes (yeast rising) and 40 minutes (dough rising)
Bake time: 10 to 12 minutes

Ingredients:
7/8 cup warm water (110°F)
1 teaspoon Rapid Rise® Yeast
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached white flour

Prepare the Dough:
1. In a small sauce pot, heat the water.

2. While water is heating, place the yeast in a 2-cup metal or wood bowl (do not use glass or porcelain, as these cold elements will halt the rising process of the yeast).

3. When water is barely warm, pour it slowly into the bowl with yeast; gently swirl the bowl around.

4. Cover the yeast-water mixture with aluminum foil; set it aside on a wood surface or trivet; let it rise for 15 minutes. Do not set the yeast on marble, granite or tile surface, as the cold surface will halt the rising process.

5. After 15 minutes, transfer the water-yeast mixture to a 2-quart metal, wood or plastic mixing bowl (no porcelain or glass).

6. Gently stir in the olive oil, salt, black pepper and fennel seeds.

7. Gradually (a little at a time) and with a wooden spoon, add the flour until a sticky dough has formed.

8. Transfer the sticky dough onto a lightly-floured wood surface.

9. Gently knead the dough until it is uniform and soft.

10. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl; cover with aluminum foil.

11. Set bowl with dough aside on a wood surface (do not set it on marble, granite or tile surface) away from draft.

12. Let dough rise for 40 minutes.

Shape the Breadsticks or Grissini:
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.

2. Lightly flour a flat work surface.

3. Transfer dough onto floured work surface.

4. Shape the dough by gently stretching and patting it outwards until it forms a 12 X 8-inch rectangle.

5. Using a pizza cutting wheel or a sharp knife, cut 3/4-inch wide strips (crosswise) to measure 8 inches in length.

6. Without using too much flour (the dough should grasp your fingers and not slide away), gently roll the dough into a 14 to 16-inch long piece.

7. Fold the dough in half, forming a loop at one end – place the shaped breadstick dough on a parchment-lined 18 X 12-inch baking sheet.

8. Repeat the rolling process for remaining dough strips and transfer them onto the baking sheet spaced 3/4-inch apart.
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9. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper – continue shaping and placing looped dough pieces on baking sheet.

Bake the Breadsticks:
1. Place one baking sheet on top oven rack and the other on the bottom oven rack.

2. Bake the breadsticks for 20 minutes.

3. After 20 minutes, invert the top baking sheet with the bottom baking sheet; bake for an additional 20 minutes.

4. After 20 minutes, if breadsticks still look white on top, turn them over.

5. Bake the breadsticks for an additional 4 to 5 minutes.

6. Serve the breadsticks warm or cold with cheese, olives and a variety of appetizers, together with your favorite wine.

TO REFRIGERATE BREADSTICKS: Place breadsticks in a food storage bag, sealed, or in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
TO FREEZE BREADSTICKS: Place breadsticks in double freezer food storage bags for up to 2 months.
At serving time, transfer breadsticks to a serving platter or basket and let thaw at room temperature for 1 hour.
Text & Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Nancy’s Tuna Tartare

In Appetizers / Starters, Fish & Shellfish On March 24, 2017 0 Comments

Prep time: 10 to 12 minutes
Serves: 4 (as an appetizer) or 2 (as a main dish)

Tuna tartare is one of my favorite appetizers to order at a restaurant. However, by preparing this delicacy at home, I can avoid paying $16.00+ for a mere 1-cup serving at each outing.

My recipe for tuna tartare is a perfect dish for Lent – bon appetit!

Ingredients:
One 8-ounce sushi grade tuna filet, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 Persian cucumber, peeled & cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons finely-chopped red onion
3 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 1-1/4 teaspoons organic Tamari sauce
salt, to taste (add this after Tamari sauce, as it may be too salty)
4 to 8 corn tostada shells (flat)

Directions:
1. In a 2-quart mixing bowl, combine all ingredients together except for the tostada shells.

2. Using a large spoon, gently toss so that all ingredients are combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. Divide tuna tartare among 2 to 4 plates. Ask guests to spoon some tuna tartare onto a tostada. Bon appetit!

White Wine Pairing: Chilled Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio are suggested.

Text and Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real