I think of all the cuisines of the world that I've tried, I like best that of Italy. Fortunately, with a bit of flexibility, appropriate ingredients can be found here in Michoacán.
Yesterday, we had our two neighbors to comida. They'd just returned from a long weekend in Mexico City.
I decided that an Italian meal would be suitable to welcome them home. The menu we decided on began with a mixed salad with bocconcini (cheese marinated in herbed olive oil); eggplant parmigiana, a simple, fusilli or rigatoni pasta, and a variation on the theme of Sicilian cannoli, with fresh, local blackberries.
Most Thursdays, and sometimes other days, we can get eggplants in the Pátzcuaro mercado, at the vegetable stand of Familia los Padilla. They also have nice basil, sweet peppers in various colors, and other specialty vegetables.
The bocconcini were based on a recipe from Joyce Goldstein's Mediterranean Cooking, with the addition of sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. To make it, a cup of olive oil is gently warmed. Oregano, a bit of red chile, black pepper, crushed garlic and salt are briefly infused in the oil. When cool, it's poured over a pound of small cubes of mozzarella. I used a package of little balls of cheese from Cremería Aguascalientes. They weren't as soft and mellow as real, fresh mozzarella balls, but they were adequate. The cheese is left to marinate several hours at room temperature.
The salad itself had romaine lettuce, sweet red and yellow peppers, seeded chopped cucumber and vine tomatoes (purchased at Costco. These are really the best tasting tomatoes I've yet found in Mexico. Amazingly, they are grown in Ontario!)
The Melanzana alla Parmigiana was based on a simple recipe by Marcella Hazan. I sliced three medium eggplants about 1/2 inch thick. Unlike the Hazan recipe, I didn't peel them. The slices are salted and left to stand upright at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, I prepared the sauce. Two cans of S&W sliced Italian Style tomatoes (from Costco) were drained. I then coarsely chopped them in the food processor.
Next, about 1/2 cup of chopped onions and 2 cloves of garlic, were sauteed in some of the oil, over low heat in a large, wide pot. As they began to turn golden, I put in the chopped tomatoes, These were cooked briefly and I added 1 can of Cidacos brand Spanish ground tomatoes. (Superama or Wal-Mart in Morelia). This was seasoned with a little salt, some Asian fish sauce (could have added some finely minced anchovies, but I didn't want to open a can); hot Spanish paprika and a squirt of red wine vinegar.
After cooking on a low flame some 20 minutes, I then added chopped fresh basil (from los Padilla) and a good pinch of Mexican oregano. The tastings indicated a couple of tablespoons of sugar would be a good addition.
I like to make extra Italian tomato sauce to freeze, but we used all but two cups of this batch.
Meanwhile, back at the eggplant: the slices were patted dry on paper towels, and fried of medium-high heat in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and canola oil; turning once when brown on the underside. It was necessary to do this in two batches.
As they emerged from the frying pan, they were again blotted on paper towels.
Asssembly: in a 12 inch diameter pottery casserole, I put a single layer of fried eggplant, followed by a thorough covering of tomato sauce.
That was followed by a generous shower of coarsely shredded mozzarella, and a couple of tablespons of Queso Reggianito. (A Latin American facsimile of Parmigiano Reggiano, but much less expensive. At Costco.)
Repeated with a second layer of eggplant, sauce, and finishing wih cheeses.
This goes into a 400ºF oven for 20 minutes, at which time any surplus liquid is spooned off. Then returned to oven for another 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, a large pot of well salted water was brought to a boil, and approximately 300 grams of short pasta added (in this instance, Barilla Fusilli. Costco, Wal-Mart and other stores.)
Back to the salad: when it was attractively assembled by Susan in a large, wooden salad bowl, I drained the bocconcini and placed them atop the salad.
With some of the marinade, I added enough red wine vinegar to make a vinaigrette dressing, correcting the seasoning.
Nostra Melanzana alla Michoacana was luscious. I'm having an eggplant sandwich for breakfast. It won't be as richly lush as this one, but it will be enough.
We had a loaf or two of Mercado Soriana Panadería's sesame Baguet. I think it was 6 pesos a loaf.
With this meal, we drank water and glasses of our everyday vino tinto, Concha y Toro Seleccíon Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. Costco, 6 bottles for $299 pesos.
Dessert details will have to be the subject of a separate post.
Images from Internet sources.