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Rice and Eggplant Soup, Minestra di Melanzane e Riso

Eggplant is one of the most classic south Italian vegetables, and though it often finds its way into pasta sauces, it’s not common in soups. This recipe is Puglian, and also calls for rice, which, legend has it, was introduced to Italy by the Arabs who once dominated southern Italy.

To serve 4:

  • 3/4 cup (150 g) rice
  • 3 medium eggplants, stemmed and cubed
  • A medium onion
  • An egg
  • A small bunch parsley, minced
  • A dozen fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • A quart (1 liter) of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmigiano or mild Romano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the cubed eggplant in a colander, sprinkle it abundantly with salt, and let it set for a couple of hours. While it’s setting, chop the onion and the herbs, and heat the broth to a simmer.

Heat a quarter cup of olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions and the herb mixture. Rinse the eggplant well and drain it.

When the onions begin to soften, add the diced eggplant and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in the simmering broth and the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the rice is done. While the rice is cooking, lightly beat the egg and mix the cheese into it.

When the rice is done, remove the pot from the fire, briskly stir a ladle of the soup into the egg mixture, and then stir the egg mixture back into the soup. Drizzle with a little more olive oil, check seasoning, and serve.

Stuffed Pork Loin, Filetto di Maiale Farcito

This is one of those dishes that will be quite tasty grilled, in summer, but will also be a pleasant roast in winter. And, it’s easy to do.

To serve 6:

  1. 2 boned pork loins trimmed of fat, 1 3/4 pounds (700 g) in all
  2. 1/4 pound (100 g) dried tomatoes
  3. A rib of celery
  4. 1/2 cup chopped pitted green olives
  5. 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  6. 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  7. 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary needles
  8. Olive oil
  9. Salt and pepper to taste
  10. Butcher’s twine

Pull the strings from the celery if need be, and mince it. Mince the tomatoes too. Combine the celery with the tomatoes, olives, and herbs, and combine the mixture with the breadcrumbs, adding enough olive oil to make the stuffing moist and crumbly. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the pork loins almost completely through lengthwise so you can open them like a couple of books Spread the stuffing over them, shut them, and tie them up like a couple of salamis using the butcher’s twine. Rub them lightly with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

At this point you have a choice: Grill or Oven?

To grill them, set them over fairly hot coals (you can hold your hand over for 5 seconds) and cook them for 20-25 minutes, turning them often.

To roast them, put them in a roasting pan and cook them in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for 25-30 minutes, turning them once or twice and basting them with pan drippings.

In either case, let them sit for a few minutes after they’re cooked, then remove the string and slice them fairly thickly. Serve them with a tossed salad. A wine? Because of the dried tomatoes and the olives, I would be tempted to go with a substantial white, for example a Greco di Tufo.

Patate alla Griglia, Grilled Potatoes

I often wrap potatoes in foil and slip them into the embers when I fire up the grill; they cook on their own and are wonderful with the meats, especially when seasoned with olive oil. Grilled potatoes are another tasty option. You’ll need:

  • Potatoes sufficient to feed your party
  • Kosher salt
  • The finely chopped leaves of a fresh sprig of rosemary
  • A drizzle of olive oil

Peel the potatoes and slice them lengthwise (quarter them if they’re small, or eighth them if they’re larger). Boil the slices in lightly salted water for 5 minutes.

Drain them, pat them dry, and grill them over a medium heat for 5 minutes per side. Transfer them to a serving dish, sprinkle them with kosher salt and chopped rosemary, drizzle a little olive oil over them, and serve.

Tomato Sandwiches, Pomodori a Mo di Panini

Italian cooking is anything but static, and these tomato “sandwiches” (for want of a better term) are a new, quick, frightfully easy development that’s perfect when it’s hot out. As a light antipasto you’ll want one panino, two per person will instead work nicely in a light luncheon.

To serve 4 people antipasti you’ll want:

  • 4 large, firm, sun-ripened garden tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, 8 shredded, and 4 whole
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 mozzarella balls (about a half pound, or 200 g, drained), cut into 8 slices
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Crush the garlic, mix it with the oil and the shredded basil, season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper, and let it rest 10 minutes. While doing this, turn on your broiler.

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise, drain them, and put them in an oven-proof pan, skin-side up. Run the tomatoes under the broiler for a minute or two, flip them, and broil the other sides as well.

Arrange the slices of mozzarella on four of the tomato halves, cover them with the other halves, and run the tomatoes under the broiler for a few seconds more, until the mozzarella begins to soften.

Arrange the tomatoes on plates, drizzle the pan drippings and the seasoned olive oil over them, garnish with the whole basil leaves, and serve at once.

The wine? A light, crisp white, for example a Galestro.

Tomato Vegetable Medley, Teglia ai Pomodori

Tomato Vegetable Medley

Tomato Vegetable Medley

You won’t find many Greek foods in Italian markets, but feta is popular, especially among those who are trying to eat healthily. This recipe should in theory be baked briefly, but you could also lightly chill it after assembling it and enjoy it cool, especially at a picnic or cookout.

  • A scant 2 pounds (800 g) sun-ripened salad tomatoes
  • A scant pound (400 g) friarelli, the classic small mild green Neapolitan pepper (in their absence use bell peppers, not something hotter)
  • The leaves of a small bunch of basil, coarsely shredded
  • A scant half pound (200 g) feta, diced
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 pound (225 g) pitted Kalamata olives
  • A pinch of oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes into quarter-inch thick (about 1/2 cm) thick rounds, eliminating the seeds and the water they contain. Lightly salt the slices and set them in a colander for an hour to draw out more moisture.

Stem, seed, rib, and chop the peppers. Sauté them for 3-5 minutes in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Drain them on absorbent paper and lightly salt them.

Rinse and drain the tomatoes.

Lightly oil a casserole and line the bottom with a layer of tomatoes. Dot it with basil, feta, olives, peppers, a pinch of oregano, and salt and pepper to taste, and continue with another layer of tomatoes followed by the other ingredients, until all is used up.

Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over all. At this point you have a choice. You can either lightly chill the dish, or you can heat your oven to 360 F (180 C) and bake it for about 20 minutes, which will yield an equally tasty though rather different result. Your choice.