Eggplants are  wonderful vegetables and are used a lot in Italian and also in Asian cooking. Also known as aubergine, they belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes. 
I grow them in my garden in the Australian summer and with the subtropical climate in Brisbane it is a great plant and you have abundant crops with only one plant. 
HEALTH BENEFITS: Eggplants have a lot of fibre, potassiumvitamin C and vitamin B-6 as well as are high in antioxidants.
Here is a great Sicilian recipe below which I was given when I visited the fabulous Aeolian Islands. Give it a try it is simple and tastes fabulous. I love the balance of the sweet and the acidity and the freshness of the mint. We made this recipe in one of my Italian cooking classes earlier this year.

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MELANZANE IN AGRODOLCE:   Sweet and Sour Eggplants with Mint 
This is a lovely recipe to make in summer when eggplants and mint are in abundance.
Once made keep this dish at room temperature to serve.
2 eggplants
1/2 onion
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
  • Wash the eggplant and dice in walnut size cubes. 
  • Place in a dish and salt them generously and leave for 30 mins. This helps remove any bitterness from the eggplant (usually more so if eggplants are large or older).
  • In a non stick frypan, add the oil and the chopped onion – sautée and do not burn the onion, just sweat it down.
  • Drain the salted eggplant and pat dry with clean tea towel or absorbent towel.
  • Add the eggplant and stir until eggplant cooked and browned. 
  • In a cup add the vinegar and the sugar, stir to dissolve sugar. Pour this over the eggplant in the frypan.
  • Stir gently until the vinegar evaporates. When done, add half the mint leaves(tear them) and mix through gently.
  • Place on a dish and put the extra mint leaves on top.

VARIATIONS: You can also do this with zucchini. Slice in round slices and salt as above.

                                                                                      Buon Appetito!


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Fun cooking Italian together at Moreton Bay College, Manly- Brisbane, Australia

WHY NOT JOIN LUCIANA FOR THE NEXT CLASS ON SATURDAY APRIL 30?
CONTACT LUCIANA HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION


Another great group of wonderful cooks came together over the weekend to cook up a storm. Italian cooking is fun when cooking together especially when making pasta from scratch and making many other traditional dishes.
We made dishes like veal involtini filled with a parsley frittata – a recipe shown to me by by Abruzzese family. Once you fill the veal with the frittata it is rolled up and secured with a toothpick, the meat is browned then it is placed into the tomato sauce for the pasta and gently simmers there for a while. Of course the great flavours soak into the veal rolls. So you have a primo dish of pasta, then the secondo or meat dish is ready also!
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Pasta alla Norma – a great dish from Sicily.
The pasta sauce we made was an eggplant, tomato and basil with ricotta – a great traditional Sicilian dish from the town of Catania. They call it Pasta alla Norma – as legend says that the composer Vincenzo Bellini ordered this dish often and so it was named after his great opera ‘Norma’. 
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Brutti ma Buoni – hazelnut meringues
Here is a biscuit I love to make – these are delicious Hazelnut Meringues, known as Brutti ma Buoni (‘Ugly but Good’!).
They do not look ugly to me, but taste sublime. They originate from the north of Italy from the 1800’s, some say from Lombardia region and others say from the Piemonte region as there are many hazelnuts found there.
Why not try them yourselves? Quite simple to make using basically 3 ingredients! 
BRUTTI MA BUONI – Makes about 20 biscuits
75 gr (2.65 oz) egg whites (about 3 eggs)
150 gr (5.0 oz) roasted ground coarsely hazelnuts
140 gr (about 5oz) (or less) caster sugar
vanilla bean scraped or paste

* Preheat oven 150 deg.
* In a bowl, whisk the egg whites with about half the sugar to form stiff meringue, add the vanilla.
* Blend the other half of the sugar with the whole hazelnuts.
* Place the meringue mixture and add the hazelnuts into a saucepan and stir until the mixture starts to thicken (about 10 mins or so). You will need to stir as it will stick. 
* Remove from heat and cool. Place spoonfuls of mixture onto tray lined with baking paper.
* Bake for at least 15-20 mins until golden brown.
VARIATION – add 2 tbsp dark cocoa to the meringue mix to make chocolate hazelnut biscuits, a great combination.

ENJOY!

These wonderful traditional olive oil waffles from Abruzzo are just great and easy to make. You need few ingredients but you also need a waffle maker from Abruzzo.. They can be electric or the traditional stove top manual variety.
I get asked many times to share the recipe, so here it is again. Of course depending on which part of Abruzzo you are from, the recipe alters slightly.
The main thing I learned from my mother Rosa, is that it is all about ratios – so easy to remember. So for every egg you add one tablespoon (or 2)  of sugar and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and one heaped tablespoon of plain flour. They can be flavoured with lemon zest, some limoncello or with aniseed. But they are ALWAYS made with olive oil and never butter!
HAVE A GO!
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE PIZZELLE:
For every 1 egg : add
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Plain Flour  – as needed
  • lemon rind
  • some vanilla essence
  • or aniseed (instead of lemon zest)

METHOD:
Beat the egg with extravirgin olive oil and sugar. Add the flour untill you obtain a  soft mixture. Then add some aniseed or lemon zest.
A spoonful is placed on the hot waffle iron, after oiling and heating on a gas stove. Close the waffle iron and press. When the mixture turns golden brown it is cooked and can be removed from the iron.
( ..The time to say a Hail Mary on one side, should be ready to turn over! This is about 30 – 40 seconds)
Alternative: Electric waffle irons are a much easier option.

When all neole are cooked,  sandwich with the gorgeous homemade grape jam (Traditional) or other jam of your choice.
Serve – sprinkled with icing sugar.

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My father Sabatino very proud of his mother’s pizzelle maker.
BATTERED SAGE LEAVES
This is such a simple batter to make and it is great for many vegetables.. think of it as an Italian tempura batter.
I like to use it with sage leaves – sometimes they are in abundance and a great aperitivo snack to go with your crisp white Italian summer wine.
Other vegetables work equally well – such as zucchini flowers, eggplant slices (not too thick), zucchini and red capsicums (peppers) strips or julienne. In season I have also tried using elderflower blossoms and also acacia (robinia robusta) flowers. They are great!
Have a go and impress your friends!BATTER for coating vegetables:
This is the most popular version used in Abruzzo:
150 gr (5 oz)  plain flour
150 ml (5 oz) water (plain or soda water)
1 egg
Good pinch of salt

In a bowl:
Mix together with a fork in a bowl, until it turns into soft batter and is free of lumps.
Dip the desired vegetable or edible flowers.
If using eggplant best to steam them a little to soften. Drain and dry on a cloth before dipping into the batter and frying.

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BATTERED SAGE LEAVES
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YOU CAN USE ZUCCHINI FLOWERS also
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BATTERED ELDERFLOWER BLOSSOMS

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Antipasto: Abruzzese Pallott’ Cace e Ove

If you have alot of cheese and eggs on hand, this is a great dish to make!
Most households in Abruzzo make these very traditional specialties. It was considered ‘poor man’s food’ as there was no meat to be had and it provided ample protein for the hard working farmers.. Read more

Here is a lovely Abruzzese recipe from the current issue of ITALIANICIOUS magazine – a great magazine for the Italophiles out there! A good recipe for Mother’s Day that is for sure!! Click on the recipe below and follow the step by step guide to making your delicious pasta and this fabulous sauce.  Seafood and mint, what a delightful combination…buon appetito!

http://www.italianicious.com.au/cooking-class/view/chitarrina-pasta-with-scampi-and-mint-salsa-verde

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I posted this photo on my Touring Abruzzo Facebook page last week:
https://www.facebook.com/TouringAbruzzowithLuciana
and amazingly it reached the most amount of followers out there, over 500! Many of the comments brought back fond food memories for those who grew up with the aroma of the pizzelle or neole or ferratelle wafting in the air…
The name for these olive oil waffles changes according to where you are from in Abruzzo!
Many have asked for the recipe so I thought I would share it with you.
I have finally perfected it as I have so many variations from my mother, my grandmother, other ladies in the village when I go back to Abruzzo. I have shared it also with many who have attended my Italian cooking classes in Brisbane. It will certainly make it in my collection of Abruzzese recipes I am putting together! It is truly a classic and a traditional Abruzzese recipe.

This recipe makes about 50 small waffles:
INGREDIENTS:
2 eggs (60 gr eggs)
4 heaped tbspn sugar
4 heaped tbspn extravirgin olive oil
180- 200 gr plain flour
1 tbspn PERNOD liqueur (or other i e Limoncello) or add 1 tspn aniseed in the batter
½ tspn vanilla essence

METHOD:
In a bowl, beat with electric beater the eggs and sugar until the sugar dissolves – beat  3- 5 minutes.
Then add the oil and beat for  a further 3 -5 minutes
Remove electric beater and fold in the vanilla, Pernod liqueur (or aniseed) and the flour by hand. Add the plain flour a little at a time until well folded in.
The batter should be thick and not runny as  you will need to push off the batter with your finger or another spoon onto the well heated waffle iron.
Heat the waffle iron, spray with olive oil spray or use pastry brush dipped in oil.
Place 1 tspn dough in the middle of the waffle iron, close and hold firmly. If dough spills out, just trim with a knife.
The waffle should take about 30 secs to cook, open and use fork to remove waffle.
The first ones may stick and not work out, clean and scrape out all pastry and re oil until they work..
Place cooked waffles on a flat surface and stack. When cool, they can snap off. Store in air tight containers as they last a long time.

WHERE TO SOURCE A WAFFLE IRON: Here we use a waffle iron which will make thin and crispy waffles, not the deep and soft waffles. In Australia, they are available from Italian stores such as this one in Melbourne:
COSTANTE IMPORTS     http://www.costanteimports.com.au/
377-379 Bell Street Preston, VIC 3072    TEL: (03) 9484 7948


Picturephoto from www.foodfamilyfinds.com

Have a look at the endless shapes/moulds available and also see the amazing modern take on the humble classic PIZZELLE! http://www.tastespotting.com/tag/Pizzelle

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Fried bread crostini with anchovy and capers.
This is a great for entertaining as you can prepare it in advance. I have made this recipe in one of my cooking classes, a real hit!
Serve with a lovely crisp white wine. In Abruzzo the choice would be a trebbiano or a pecorino wine!
For 6 people:
12 slices of stale bread (ie day old sourdough baguette)
12-15 anchovy fillets
12-24 pickled capers (or salted capers and rinsed thoroughly)
Egg Batter: 2 med. beaten eggs
olive oil for frying
salt
Method: Dip the bread in the beaten egg and salt and fry in pan with heated olive oil.
When golden drain on absorbent paper and cool. Set aside.
Anchovy and Capers: Spread each slice with a little butter then place in the centre a caper wrapped in the anchovy fillet.
OR as I prefer, finely chop the anchovy and capers and spread on the bread.

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Crocus sativus – saffron growing in Abruzzo

HOW TO USE SAFFRON in COOKING

PictureAbruzzese saffron infused in water

Next time you order risotto alla milanese in Italy, the saffron or “zafferano” you are eating is most likely from the region of Abruzzo, in central Italy. The plains of Navelli in the l’Aquila province are home to this delicate spice.
Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the violet-coloured crocus sativus flower and grow to around 12-15 cm tall. It has been cultivated in Navelli since the 14th Century, when a local Dominican monk brought back a number of these plants from Spain to experiment with their cultivation on his family’s estate. The terrain in Navelli- at 800 meters above sea level,a dry climate and fertile fields not too high in clay content- make it an ideal habitat for saffron cultivation.
Saffron was used to dye fabrics and hair and its additional curative powers have long been known to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.
The area of cultivation in Abruzzo is strictly limited to 8 hectares of land. A sad reduction from the 430 hectares cultivated at the turn of the last century.
Harvesting this precious spice occurs in autumn towards the end of October and into early November where the stigmas are harvested by hand before sunrise, that is, before the flowers open up, so all of their aromas are still sealed within. 200 flowers are needed to obtain one gram of fresh stigmas! The flowers are opened one by one and the stigmas are removed by hand and then slowly desiccated on the warm ash of the domestic fireplaces on the very same day. The saffron is mainly exported to northern Italy and northern European markets.

The Cooperative “Altopiano di Navelli” (Navelli Highland) was formed in 1971 and represents 40 farmers who cultivate saffron over the 8 hectares.
You too can experience the pleasure of visiting this beautiful and unspoilt region of Abruzzo – savour the regional dishes with local ingredients such as “spaghetti alla chitarra with saffron and truffle” and take part in the time honoured traditions and festivities. When you travel to Abruzzo  with Luciana you will definitely experience the pleasure of indulging in many traditional dishes with saffron! See Luciana’s tour programme in 2015 
LATEST NEWS: In Australia, saffron is being grown successfully in Tasmania by a committed couple in the Huon Valley.
Read here the latest documentary on their commitment to producing the highest quality saffron in the southern hemisphere.


Here is a simple recipe to use your saffron. This is fabulous to use as an ANTIPASTO and a palate cleanser between the starter and main meal. I eat it on fresh crusty bread. Alternatively it is a great dessert also!

SAFFRON with RICOTTA and HONEY
150 gr fresh ricotta (cow’s milk or sheep’s milk ricotta), drained overnight
1 tbspn honey
6 -8 saffron threads, infused in 1 tbspn warm water

* Drain the ricotta in a sieve, overnight to remain more of the whey liquid. You can use the liquid and add to your other baking – pikelets, cakes etc.
* You can place the drained ricotta in a mould so that when you turn it out onto a plate it is nice and neat (better than what I did in the above photo!)
* Turn out the ricotta mould onto a serving plate, drizzle the honey over the ricotta.
* Finally, gently place the infused saffron and liquid if not too watery.

Buon appetito!

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Saffron with Ricotta and Honey