Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vermicelli a la Siracusana: Eggplant Pasta Siracusa style

Melanzane from my garden
Sicily, like California, has definite seasons, but they flow into each other with subtlety and one must know what to look for to fully appreciate them: a change in the mood of the sea; the scent of autumn in the air; the dwindling fruits of summer’s bountiful garden—all these foretell autumnal change and a settling into a new season. 
Ink on paper by Andrea Sciortino
Cucina Che Vai Natura Che Trovi
As I write this, my garden bears the tell-tale signs of winter’s inevitable approach. Tomato and other plants, generously harvested in summer, are now reducing their yield. One plant that is still bearing heavily, however, is eggplant.  As it is among my favorite vegetables, I planted many varieties this year in addition to the classic Italian eggplant variety. The following recipe pays homage to this Sicilian favorite.
This  recipe came to me from a most amazing book I discovered some 20 years ago in the gift shop at the Greek temple of Segesta. I return to the gift shop every year to see if perchance they have reprinted it, but alas it is gone. The book is called: Cucina Che Vai, Natura Che Trovi, a meticulously researched gem of a book that gathers a dozen or so traditional rustic recipes, hand-written in Sicilian dialect, on what appears to be butcher paper! The Sicilian translations by professor Stefano Vilardo and original ink on paper sketches by Andrea Sciortino that accompany each recipe, along with the recipes themselves, are priceless.
Pasta  a la Siracusana
prepared with  bounty from my garden
 This particular recipe, vermicelli a la Siracusana, pays homage to the culinary patrimony of Siracusa, one of the most important of the large cities of Sicily's eastern coast, famous among other things as the early colonial base of Greek King Dionisio, known as “The Tyrant.”

My husband Michael enjoying lunch!
Sauté two large whole garlic cloves, in half a cup of olive oil and add two anchovy filets, allowing them to dissolve.  Remove the garlic and add one eggplant that has been cubed, salted, allowed to “sweat,” and rinsed. Sauté the eggplant until it is golden but still firm.  Add 3 ripe, coarsely chopped tomatoes and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Add one large yellow or red bell pepper that has been very finely sliced. Also add 4 ounces of black Sicilian oil-cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped; a generous handful of salt-packed capers that have been well rinsed; salt, ground red peperoncino, and 4 or 5 leaves of fresh sweet basil.  Allow the sauce to cook for about 20 minutes.    

When done, mix the sauce with about one pound of vermicelli pasta that has been cooked “al dente.”  Serve immediately with a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese which is excellent with this dish.  Enjoy and buon appetito!
A presto!

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