Growing up in my Italian family, dinners began with a “SALUTE!” from my grandfather as he poured his homemade wine, a “MANGIA!” from my grandmother as she spent countless hours preparing wonderful dishes from her kitchen, and their garden of abundance. Lucky for us, we reaped the benefits. And…yes… the red and white checkered tablecloth was on the table!
As a way of life, it was about food, family, friends, sharing, and celebration. Did I mention FOOD? I watched my grandfather as he planted seeds, watered and nurtured the seedlings, and reaped the harvest from his seeds that were sown into plants bearing fruit during the seasons. And, working diligently, not a weed was in sight! He grew grapes for his wine and found pure satisfaction in bottling it to be shared and enjoyed with each meal.
The first signs of spring were the lettuces and green onions and a freshly-picked ‘green’ salad each day for supper. Then came the summer beans, peas, corn, beets, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, tomatoes, and tomatoes, zucchini, zucchini, and zucchini, and bushels of fresh parsley and basil. There were peaches, pears, and figs that were harvested and canned for the cold season, as were the freshly-picked, ruby-red, hot-from-the-sun tomatoes packed with parsley and basil for pasta sauces to last throughout the entire year.
Ingredients were fresh, bursting with flavor, and the labor that went into the preparation from seed-to-table took on ‘soul’. Sharing of the bounty was purely a labor of love…If a friend stopped for a visit, you sat…you ate…you drank! Mangia! ~ Eat, Eat, Eat…! The wine would poured, the glasses raised ~ Salute! ~A toast to your health.
As I live and reflect on those moments, this was the beginning of my culinary career, and the many teachers and lessons learned. And, I thought I was just having fun making mud pies!
Since those days, much has changed, yet much remains the same. Food is nourishment and sustains us. The ‘greener’ the better, without a doubt! My great-grandparents lived to be 100 years young, and now I understand why. If you have the pleasure of growing your own fruits and vegetable, kudos! If not, we are fortunate to have sustainable farmers and markets – reap the benefits, take the time to prepare and cook your meals, and make a difference in spending quality time connecting to your loved ones and those within your community.
As I have come to understand the generations past, I am now working with the generations before me. Six years ago, my daughter Angela intuitively knew what her body needed and voluntarily became a vegetarian. Last year my daughter, Lindsay, was diagnosed with Celiac disease and the inability to properly digest wheat gluten, barley, and rye. Meals in our home became a bit challenging and our traditional family-favorites needed some changing, not to mention the time to prepare (or lack of). My children suddenly became my newest culinary teachers in adapting to not only our family’s necessary food choices, but in building on a foundation to share with others as they face their own health and food choices.
I would like to share with each of you a ‘spin’ on a favorite: If you love eggplant, and more traditionally, Eggplant Parmesan, my adaption is a grilled eggplant stuffed with a white bean filling smothered in a quick, tomato sauce. Grilled rather than breaded and fried, beans high in protein and fiber, seasoned with fresh herbs, and much lower in fat and calorie content. The creamy texture of the cheese is replaced with pureed beans.
Cynthia’s Gluten-free, Vegetarian Eggplant Summer Supper
Quick Tomato Sauce:
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ cup grated carrot
3-1/2 cups pureed tomato
½ teaspoon sea salt
A grinding of black pepper
1 Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced (use 1 Tablespoon if dried)
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, minced (use 1 Tablespoon if dried)
Heat a saucepan adding olive oil, onion, and garlic. Sauté on low heat until onion is tender and translucent in color. Add grated carrot and stir for 1 minute. Add tomato, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and simmer for approximately 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Add the basil and parsley the last 15 minutes.
White Bean Filling:
2-1/2 cups of White Beans such as Navy or Cannellini, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a lemon, juiced
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon of fresh basil leaves, minced
Add beans to a food processor and puree. Combine remaining ingredients and mix into the pureed beans.
*Note: We enjoy any extra filling as a dip for vegetable crudités.
To prepare the eggplant, cut off each end and discard. ~great for your compost pile
Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices. In a large colander, place a layer of eggplant on the bottom and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat layers and let sit (preferably in your sink) for 30 minutes. The eggplant is ‘sweating’ and extracting bitterness. Rinse well under cold water and let drain.
On a hot gas grill, or a grill pan, place a single layer of eggplant, brushing with olive oil to prevent sticking, while adding flavor. Grill for about 5 to 8 minutes on each side, or until tender and slightly brown.
In a large casserole pan (or individual plates), place a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of pan or plate. Place a slice of eggplant topped with a heaping tablespoon of bean filling. Top with another layer of eggplant. Spoon remaining tomato sauce on top, and garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve. This may be prepared in advanced and reheated. Serves approximately 4 to 6.