Here is another of the great debates among Italian Americans: to salt or not to salt eggplant before cooking. I am referring to a process of sprinkling coarse salt on sliced eggplant and letting it sit in a colander for up to an hour. There are a couple of reasons for doing this. First, it draws out the bitter flavor that is inherent in eggplant. This is really more applicable to bigger eggplant; the baby variety is much less bitter. Second, is to draw out a lot of the liquid so the eggplant isn’t soggy after cooking. Many will argue that this process is unnecessary, and that there is very little difference afterwards.
Here is a great Los Angeles Times article that attempts to settle the debate with an experiment with eggplants that have been both salted and unsalted in a number of popular preparations. The findings? Other than a smoother texture when frying, there really isn’t a large difference in flavor by salting. Now we know.
Right now, I love The Italian Cooking Course by Katie Caldesi.
The number of Italian cookbooks currently available on Amazon is overwhelming. While many of these books have a specific focus, such as pasta or Sicily, there are a large number of comprehensive titles that attempt to cover all aspects of Italian cuisine. Two classic, fantastic examples are The Silver Spoon and Essentials of Classic Italian Cuisine by Marcella Hazan. Both are huge volumes filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes, and are revered by some of today’s top Italian chefs.
So, how did I choose The Italian Cooking Course? Well, it’s more than just a cookbook. It is a culinary handbook on all things Italian. There are over 400 recipes in the book covering just about everything, but what sets this book apart is the cultural history and detail to technique that is also included. For example, there is a chapter on cheese that includes an in-depth flavor description of every Italian cheese. There is a section on choosing the right olive oil, a light chapter on wine, and a detailed step-by-step guide on making pasta with easy-to-follow photographs. It’s not just a cookbook, it’s a fantastic read.
The author, Katie Caldesi, is actually British. She owns restaurants with her husband, Giancarlo Cardesi, who is obviously Italian, in both London and Campagna. She is also the principal of La Cucina Caldesi, the only Italian cooking school in London. She wrote this book after spending years researching the food in every region of Italy. Many recipes are even accompanied by the interesting story of how she discovered that dish.
Is it sauce or gravy? It’s one of the greatest debates among Italian-Americans. I am referring, of course, to the sauce (or gravy) that Mom stood over all day, every Sunday.
I thought a simple Google search would find me the answer, but all I found was message board after message board of people passionately arguing that what they call it is correct. I thought maybe it was a regional thing, either in the US or wherever the family hails from in Italy…but to no avail. I found a pretty equal amount of Chicagoans and New Yorkers who call it either one or the other. The same went for Italian regions of origin, whether it be Northern Italy or Sicily.
After asking a number of friends, I received a variety of answers. One was that it is a gravy if there is meat in the preparation and sauce if there is not. Another said that it is only gravy if it is made on Sunday…hmm, interesting. I also heard that it is only gravy if it takes all day to make.
I knew from the start that there is no real answer to the question. For most, it really just depends on what Mom called it when you were young. That being said, my own mother would never call it anything other than sauce, while for me, I like the sound of gravy.