Thank you for continuing to follow me on this Italian journey. If you have been following More Than Burnt Toast you will know that I have been creating personal challenges based on a theme to infuse new life into my own cooking adventures. At the moment I am not travelling the world on my own personal journey as Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love or realizing my dream of visisting every cooking school from here to Timbuktu but I can infuse new life into my own kitchen. Every day food should be an adventure either with new ideas or experimenting with a new cuisine. Every day we should be excited about what we are eating even if it just means something as simple as making use of a wonderful find at our local farmers market. Travel with me on this journey as we recreate an Italian menu from antipasto to dolce. With these personally imposed challenges I am finding my culinary skills to be rejuvenated and back on track. This is the perfect time of year to pump up our kitchens into high gear! Since this is a food blog I am going to concentrate on the EAT part of the book so this personal challenge to celebrate the opening of Eat, Pray, Love the movie starring Julia Roberts.
Eat , Pray,Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderfully crafted book about life changing experiences when she trades in her previously perfect life to travel the world "to find herself. " After a heart wrenching divorce she spends a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. Each word in the title Eat, Pray, Love is expanded by her experiences in three countries. In Italy she indulges in the fabulous food and language. In India she finds new meaning in her life on her personal journey of self-awareness and enlightenment spending time in an Indian ashram. Then as a climax to the book she finally finds love in Bali, Indonesia.
Almost every city and town in Italy has its specialties, and there are regional trends too. The end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. (I will take one for the team and make every attempt to explore as many dishes as possible). Of course there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere, and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.
Italian cuisine is all about the freshest, most flavourful ingredients prepared simply yet exquisitely. Gilbert's time in Italy is spent immersing herself in the romantic language and cuisine of Italy that we all love. My menu does not concentrate on just one region in Italy but embraces the entire country in my own culinary adventure to celebrate the release of the movie.
Our first contorno or "side dish" is a seasonal vegetable dish. A Tiella is a layered vegetable dish often containing tomatoes, potatoes, and zucchini that is popular in southern Italy and baked in an earthenware dish. It reminds me of a Greek dish Briam or even perhaps that classic ratatouille. I know as with all dishes each region in Italy has their own favourite version of Tiella and it may be different each time it is served depending on the whims of the cook. In Puglia it often contains either mussels or cozze, while some other regions encase their Tiella in pastry. What can be said about Tiella is that it varies each time I make it depending on what vegetables are seasonally available. I think you should experiment with your own vegetable combinations and create a dish that best suits your taste.
In this version inspired by Deborah Mele I actually precooked the vegetables before I assembled the dish to enhance the flavour and cut down on the actual baking time as well. This dish is best served at room temperature or just slightly warm, and in fact tastes great if prepared earlier in the day as I did which allows the flavours to meld. In the heat of the summer when fresh garden produce is available preparing and cooking this dish in early morning for serving a room temperature later in the day will keep your house cool and your kitchen free.
In this Tiella I have used potato slices on both the top and bottom to serve as anchors since potatoes are fairly sturdy and the dish is removed from the pan to serve. Each layer is simply brushed with seasoned oil and fresh herbs. There is also a little grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese sprinkled between each layer which not only adds a wonderful saltiness and flavour but helps to hold everything together. Using a spring-form pan with a removable bottom works well to make this dish as you can easily move the Tiella to a platter for serving and what a presentation it makes!! Feel free though to make changes and create your own individual version.
If you would like to join me simply prepare an Italian dish from antipasti, primo, secondo, contorno to dolce and send the link with photo to eatchallenge(at)gmail(DOT)com before the opening of the movie. The possibilities are limitless!!!! On or around August 13th I will round up your recipes and post this journey we have all been on together. There is not much time before the movie release so join me if you can!
by Deborah Mele
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium eggplant, sliced Into 1/3 onch rounds
2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise
2 red peppers, roasted and peeled
2 ripe red beefsteak tomatoes
3 large potatoes
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Finely minced fresh basil and parsley
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the onion slices in 2 tablespoons olive oil until the are very soft and beginning to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Preheat the broiler and lightly oil a baking sheet. Place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet, and brush the tops of the slices with a little oil. Broil until fork tender and lightly browned on both sides. Cook the zucchini and potato slices the same way.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a spring-form pan and begin by laying down potato slices slightly overlapping to cover the bottom. Mix together about 1/2 cup of olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of each of the minced basil and parsley. Add the oregano and season with salt and pepper. Lightly brush the top of the potatoes with the seasoned oil and sprinkle with a little of the grated cheese. Begin to layer the rest of the vegetables on top of the potatoes in the same manner brushing with a little oil in between and sprinkling each layer with a little cheese finishing with a layer of potatoes.
Place the spring-form pan into another larger dish to catch any juices that escape and bake the Tiella for about 30 minutes. If it begins to brown too much on top, cover the top with foil. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
Serve the Tiella at room temperature or just slightly warm for the best flavour.
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