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Last weekend we celebrated my cousin Paula’s birthdy, and she is also one of my most faithful readers. For her birthday, she asked me to cook a traditional Italian dinner, meaning we would have antipasti (before meal “snacks” or appetizers), a primo piatto (first plate – usually consisting of a pasta or rice dish or soup), a secondo piatto (second course – the protein course), and a dolce (sweet or dessert). Since I’m a huge fan of the dolci, I served two desserts, a “pre-dessert” and a main dessert. In the traditional four-hour Italian dinner, there would also be a contorno (side dish – the vegetable course) which is served along with the main course, but someone (me) forgot to put it in the oven…..oops. Luckily there was enough food, that no one missed it.
This dinner was especially fun to create, not only was it Italian, but all the dishes sang of the Sicilian flavors, the birthplace of my grandparents. There was the eggplant, tomato, cheese combination, prevelant throughout the south of Italy. Salty sea flavors of Sicily, capers and anchovies, were in the pasta. Pine nuts and currants, that sweet combination from the island, were added to the pork dish. Dessert was a completely Sicilian affair with granita and the traditional birthday cake from Palermo. I’m so excited to share this Sicilian-Inspired holiday menu with you. It’s a great way to bring a little bit of Italy and Sicily into your holiday dinner, whether that holiday be a birthday or Christmas – or both.
Paula’s Italian Birthday Dinner Menu
~ Antipasti ~
Involtini di Melanzane
~ Primo Piatto ~
~ Secondo Piatto ~
Bracioala di Maiale
~ I Dolci ~
Granita di Limone
Eventually, I will be sharing all the recipes with you, but today I’ve started with the starter. Below is the recipe for the Involtini di Melanzane (Eggplant Rolls). Involtini is Italian term for any food that is rolled, and filled. You will also see involtini of fish (especially sword fish), beef and veal on many Sicilian menus. Come back Friday when I’ll have the recipe for Torta Setteveli – the birthday cake in Palermo. I’ve been wanting to recreate this cake ever since I had it last October. Next Monday, I’ll be serving Braciola di Maiale (Braised Rolled Pork Shoulder). I’ve provided links to recipes from this menu that I’ve already shared here on Food Lover’s Odyssey: Spaghetti Siracusana and Meyer Lemon Granita. I hope you make the entire dinner for a special occasion, or try one of them to add a little Sicilian flavor to your holidays.
Involtini di Melanzane
(makes 20 involtini)
3 – 4 eggplants, yielding 20 lengthwise slices ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons sea salt
About 2 cups olive oil
2 cups Parmigiano-Regiano cheese
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup tomato sauce (see recipe below)
Layer the eggplant slices in a colandar, sprinkling each layer with salt. Cover the top with a paper towel and place something heavy on top of the covered eggplant to help release their juices, which tend to be bitter. Let sit for 2 hours. After the 2-hour period, rinse the slices of eggplant with water and pat dry.
In a large saute pan, add olive oil until it is about 3/4-inch deep. Heat the olive oil and add some of the slices of eggplant and fry them until they are lightly browned on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Take the slices out and drain them on paper towels. You may have to add more olive oil one or two more times during the frying process. Make sure to heat the oil before adding the eggplant slices.)
Preheat an oven to 375 F.
Spread about 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
To make the filling, mix together, in a bowl, the grated Parmigiano, breadcrumbs, parsley and pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup of this filling and set aside. Take a fried eggplant slices and lay them out on a working surface. Spread about 2 teaspoons of the filling mixter over each eggplant. One inch from the top of each eggplant, place 4-5 cubes of the mozzarella. Roll up the eggplant and place them in the baking dish, with the end part down. Spread the remaining tomato sauce in a line over the center of the eggplant rolls. Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle a little of the Parmigiano/breadcrumb mixture and sprinkle over the top where the sauce is. Bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve. Buon Appetito!
(makes about 2 cups)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon salt, divided in half, plus more to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup white wine
One 28-ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes, chopped or crushed by hand and their juices
½ cup basil, chopped
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and half the salt and sweat the onions for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook a scant minute (don’t let the garlic burn). Add the wine and turn the heat to high to cook off the alcohol. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and remaining salt, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
How do your travels and/or heritage inspire your holiday meals? What are some of those dishes you have included in Christmas dinners?
***This post is part of WanderFood Wednesdays – Go on over to the site and check out other posts from more food lovers who travel.
Cannoli alla Siciliana
Torta Setteveli – Seven Veils Cake from Palermo
Holiday Dessert Recipes
Eggplant Caponata and Sicilian Market Etiquette
Cassatelle alla Siciliane (Sweet Fried Ravioli with Ricotta Cream filling)
Pasta con le Sarde (Pasta with Sardines, Tomato and Wild Fennel Sauce)
The Dish from Sicily: Arancino – Sicilian Fast Food
Good Views and Good Eats in Taormina
Foods Not to Miss in Sicily
Totano Festival and a Weekend in the Aeolian Islands
The Dish from Sicily: Granita