originally Posted on October-08-12
It is Thanksgiving weekend and my husband, aka “The Gardener”, has just picked the last of the eggplant. It has to be my all-time favorite vegetable. It is no wonder, as my Southern Italian heritage has a beautiful relationship with “Melanzane”. It is such a versatile vegetable. We grill it, stuff it and fry it.
It is the star of a beautiful stew called Caponata. It elevates a simple pasta dish in, “ Pasta a la Norma”.
Grilled vegetables would definitely be missing something without the wonderful texture of a perfectly grilled slice of eggplant.
Growing up in Southern Ontario eggplant was always plentiful from late July to early Fall. I didn’t always love it. My mother would often stuff it with a blend of ground meats, the pulp from the eggplant, bread, and Parmesan cheese.
As children, we would only eat the stuffing and not the outside eggplant shell thinking we were avoiding this foreign vegetable that none of our friends had even heard of!
We were only 1 of 2 Italian families at the local primary school and most of my friends were always curious about the various vegetables growing in the garden or drying on cookie sheets in the back yard. I caught my girlfriend tasting some leftover Pasta Fagioli once as she waited for me to finish the dishes! My family was different than the others; I had never had Canned Soup or Macaroni and Cheese from a box!
My fondest eggplant memory has to be as a high school student in the 80’s. I was in grade 11 and my 2 cousins, Maria and Louis were in grade 12. It was a beautiful September day and being teenagers, we were hungry. Now, most teens would skip school and go to the closest fast food joint, not us! We went to our Nonna’s house! My Nonna Natalizia lived with Maria’s family and was walking distance from our school. I still remember strolling up to her driveway on a late weekday morning.
Nonna was in the garden and beamed when she saw 3 of her grandchildren! Nonna was in her 60’s when she moved to Canada and was now in her 70’s, she never learned to speak English. She greeted us with a Calabrese greeting such as “here you are”! (not, why aren’t you in school) Of course the next question was,” Are you hungry?”
Nonna went to the garden and picked eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. She picked up a handful of recently harvested potatoes and headed to her basement kitchen. Within an hour she presented us with our most favorite Calabrese dish of the harvest season. Patate, pepperoni, melanzane e pomodori. (this recipe will be featured in my cookbook) Sliced potatoes with the skin still intact, fried with a medley of eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Along with a large slice of her homemade bread, this was a memorable meal. It just couldn’t get any more local or wholesome. And it was served up by a remarkable woman who wanted nothing more than to grow vegetables, cook, and care for her family. She led a simple life in Canada until she died in March 2003 at the age of 95. My daughter and I both are named for her.
She harvested the garden in the fall of 2002 for the last time.
This is dedicated to Natalizia Marchesano