Sunday, August 7, 2016

Orecchiette with Eggplant and Italian Sausage | 意式肉腸茄子貓耳朵麵

Summer in Rome conjures up images of red-checkered tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalk, of food lovers dining and drinking well into the evening, of lively farmers markets carrying the bounty of Italy's growing season - all alongside imposing ruins of Ancient Rome.

A stroll through the compact yet complete Circus Maximus Farmers Market will take you on a culinary journey through the sights and smells of an Italian summer. Emerald green zucchini, deep purple aubergines and bursting red, candy-sweet tomatoes of all shapes and sizes meet the pungent aroma of cured meats and fresh made stracciatella di bufala. Ristorantes and trattorias around town offer up seasonal specials, showcasing the freshest of local, in-season ingredients.

Interestingly, I have not always had the same appreciation for Italian cuisine. In my early years of travel I have had my fair share of dismal Italian food, falling victim for obvious tourist traps that were more concerned about turning over tables than food. I was confounded, disappointed, my experience once so marred by droopy, soggy, skimpy pizza that I left questioning what Italian food was.

Falling in love with Trastevere, Rome [Summer 2016]

It wasn't until recently as my passion and curiosity for cooking grew that I started understanding and truly appreciating the essence of great italian food: simplicity, highlighted by the freshest, seasonal ingredients.

Over the years I trailed off the beaten path, exploring the nooks and crannies of Rome and beyond, tasting local treats and regional dishes along the way. My discoveries are as ground-breaking as they are elemental. Whether it is tagliatelle amatriciana, a classic pizza margherita, or a simple antipasto of burratina affumicata, the connection is clear: all you need is a few good ingredients to make an amazing dish.

Call me crazy - never had it occurred to me before just how much tomatoes themselves contribute to the actual flavor of a tomato sauce until my last pizza in Rome - it was a transcendental moment. I was positively enlightened. Perhaps possessed. You get the idea.

Below is my take on a simple pasta dish I had as I explored Italy: Orecchiette con Melanzane e Salsiccia. Little bite-sized orecchiette (literally "small ears" in Italian) makes a wonderful vehicle to hold the chunky sauce, although any kind of pasta will do. The tomato sauce can be made in large batches ahead of time and frozen for later use; recipe as follows:

Classic Homemade Tomato Sauce | Sugo al Pomodoro

What you'll need...
200g orecchiette
2 sweet Italian sausage with fennel, casing removed
1 small eggplant, diced into bite-sized cubes
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Classic Homemade Tomato Sauce
Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Toss eggplant with one teaspoon of salt and drain for a few minutes on paper towel. Bring a salted pot of water to boil, cook pasta till al dente. Drain, reserving a small amount of pasta water.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium low heat, add sausage. Crumble the sausage and cook until beginning to brown. Pat the moisture off the eggplant and add to the sausage. Cook to soften, partially covered, about 6 minutes.

3. Add homemade tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes, stir to combine and cook till heated through. Add some pasta water if necessary.

4. Stir in cooked orecchiette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate and top with grated cheese. Buon appetito!

貓耳朵麵  200 克
意式肉腸  2 條 除去腸衣
茄子  1 小個
車厘茄  8 個 切半
初榨橄欖油   1 湯匙
芝士  隨個人喜好

1. 茄子切成小丁,撒上 1 茶匙鹽拌勻出水。
2. 滾水裡加鹽及意粉,煮至彈牙撈起備用。可保留少量意粉水備用。
3. 橄欖油用中慢火燒熱,加入意式肉腸,用鏟剁碎並煎至呈金黃色。
4. 茄子用吸水紙印乾,加入平鍋跟肉腸一起煮至軟身,約 6 分鐘。
5. 加入自家製意式番茄醬和車厘茄拌勻,有需要的話可加少量意粉水。
6. 番茄醬滾後拌入貓耳朵麵,拌勻再作調味關火即成。
7. 上碟後隨意撒上芝士,再配上一杯白酒,好好品嚐!

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