Sunday, January 2, 2011

Greeting 2011 and Clearing Christmas

I have always loved the holidays. Thanksgiving is a lead-in for Christmas and lots of good food so what’s not to like? Christmas brings lots of things; festive décor, lighted houses and trees, cheery music and various sorts of traditions according to each person’s background. And, of course, food. We have lunches, dinners and other get-togethers specifically to touch base around the holiday. All involving special food. Many of us bake special things to give away as small, personal gifts. I know people (women) who attend cookie exchange parties – How fun is that?

Then there is the decorating the house for Christmas. This typically happens around Thanksgiving and everything stays up until New Year’s. I have to admit as much as I like Christmas, by the time this comes around I am generally ready to have it be done with. Over the years my decorating style has changed somewhat. I used to do a lot. Nowadays even though I still have the interest I have modified downward. Some of that comes from living in a smaller place than I have in the past. Space does not permit. Then there’s the getting older thing. And extreme decorating is most satisfying when you have young children to be in awe of it all. Steve does appreciate, but appreciate on an adult level. Not quite the same.

But at least I’m not like many people I know who move the tree out almost immediately after Christmas day. Too many messy needles on the floor, don’t you know. Or another friend who takes everything down a few days after Christmas so it’ll be clear when the cleaning lady comes. I can understand the inclination but I’m not that compulsive so far. I try to keep everything up until New Year ’s Day which has always signaled the official end to the season to me.

Now that a new year is here I can stop thinking about holiday food and concentrate more on the regular day-to-day stuff. This time of the year that consists of soups and stews and hearty pastas. Yum, yum, just thinking about the possibilities makes me hungry. Lasagna is always good, since having the oven on these cool evenings is a good thing. I don’t make lasagna as often as I could, for two of us it seems like a lot of trouble. And, doesn’t seem special enough for guests somehow. I will have to rethink that.

My inspiration for this writing is a recipe I spotted while browsing through magazines at Barnes & Noble recently. That’s another fun thing to do during these wintry days – visits to the bookstore and/or library. I always look through the cooking magazines even though many of them have recipes that are far too exotic for me. But, I like to look at the pictures.

So I was looking through a recent magazine and spotted a great looking pasta dish picture. As I read the recipe and saw how simple the ingredients and the preparation were, I determined that this would be my first recipe for 2011. It’s something I have heard of for years but never paid much attention to. Not a new trendy dish but one of the tried and true ones.and, after I trying it I am certain it is a “bread and butter” type of recipe. Not elaborate at all. Just sort of plain home food. That said, it is delicious and a worthy winter recipe. I made it with penne and think that next time I may try it with spaghetti. The eggplant cooks to a softness that becomes “saucey” and I think it will not overwhelm the spaghetti, which was my concern this initial time.

Pasta Alla Norma
Alla Norma after the composer Bellini's (born in Catania) Norma. This dish from Catania is usually made with Ricotta Salata cheese. The semi-hard salted ricotta gives it a distinctive flavor and should be available in specialty shops and some supermarkets. If need be, substitute pecorino for it, it will not be the same, but still delicious.

2 medium eggplants, cut into 2” cubes
1/2-cup olive oil (less if baking eggplant)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 t fresh oregano leaves, chopped or 1/2 t dry oregano
5 or 6 leaves fresh basil, shredded
1/2 t red chili flakes, more to taste
2 lbs roma tomatoes, ripe, seeded and chopped or use 128 oz. canned Italian tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated ricotta salata or pecorino
1 lb spaghetti or penne rigate
Sprinkle the eggplant with salt.
Place in colander and let stand for an hour or so. (If not bitter, omit, salting removes bitterness.)Place on paper towels to drain.
toss eggplant with olive oil, place on cookie sheet, bake in a pre-heated 450o F oven for 15-20 minutes or till nicely browned.

Heat 2 T olive oil in a pan.
Add onion and sauté till golden.
Add garlic and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes.
Add the tomato, fresh oregano, pepper flakes and basil.
Raise heat so sauce cooks at a fast bubble.
Cook about 10 to 15 minutes; do not allow sauce to dry out.
While tomato sauce cooks, bring water to a boil.
Cook pasta and drain when done.
Place in a bowl, pour tomato sauce and 1/4 cup cheese and mix.
Add eggplant and toss again.pass grated cheese at table

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