JEWISH VEGETABLES: PERSIAN EGGPLANT OR “PARMIGIANA”

JEWISH VEGETABLES: PERSIAN EGGPLANT OR “PARMIGIANA”

 parmiciana by VRC  copy smallThe Jews of Sicily, prevalently Sephardic, were present in numerous communities and cities on the island, and their “Kosher or “coscer” cuisine left a profound imprint on Sicilian cuisine that endures today.

Vegetables and grains are the base of Sicilian Jewish cooking, and they also emphasized the use of olive oil for saute’ and frying, as well as garlic for adding richness of flavor to foods such as beans, cabbage and cauliflower. With these techniques, Sicilian Jewish cooking became a prime example of the simple, yet tasty, dishes that Sicilian cuisine is famous for. The spleen, lungs, and innards were compensation received by the Jews who worked in the slaughterhouses, and they cooked them with what was known as “sain” (in Spanish), or, in Sicilian “saime”: a thick, creamy fat that the Arabs obtained from animals. Inserted between bread, it became a delicacy of Palermo referred to as, “pani ca meusa” or “pane con la milza” in Italian.

 

Arabs in Sicily Palatine Chapel by Vanvakys copy

Introduced by the Arabs, and perfected by the Jews, eggplant became a universal staple of the Sicilian diet. Eggplant continues to be one of the most versatile and enjoyed vegetables in Sicilian cooking, whether fried and eaten alone, or sauteed with tomato to create pasta alla Norma, (named after the Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini, from Catania, whose works include the opera, “Norma”. Whether for economic or religious reasons, thick slices of fried eggplant were also popular substitutes for meat cutlets. When layered in a pan in the parmiciana way, the Sicilian for “persiana”, therefore because remind  the Persian blinds , with tomato sauce and fresh basil, it became the most famous eggplant dish in the world, even to this day: Eggplant Parmigiana

PASTA ALLA NORMA FOR BELLINI AND MARSALA FOR GARIBALDI

Pachino cherry tomato by Vanvakys - Version 2 copyThe tomato, which arrived from America a few centuries earlier, was a great success in Sicily. Initially used as a spice, it then became an ideal condiment for pastapizzafish, and meat, and was well suited to the kosher recipes of the Jews, and was often used in their dishes. The farmers and cultivators planted many different quantities and diverse types, so as to actually create new kinds, born of grafts and various types of cultivation, among which we must mention the ciliegino di Pachino”, or Pachino cherry tomato”.

 

 

Rigatoni alla Norma by Vanvakys small copy 2In 1831, ”pasta alla Norma, a dish of clear poetic origin –  actually  operatic – was dedicated to Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. It was in  that  year that the Scala di Milano presented the first production of this  beautiful opera. Actually, it was a true fiasco—so much so that Bellini,  disappointed and embittered, wanted to retire from his career as a  composer. However, a friend of his, who happened to be a chef, presented Bellini  with a very special pasta dish upon his arrival in their hometown of  Catania, below the many terraced towns of Mongibello (Etna.)

 

Vincenzo Bellini composer from Catania, photo by Vanvakys copys mall copy The dish  consisted of “mezze-maniche” pasta with fresh tomato sauce (representing the fiery lava), chunks of fried eggplants (the fruits of land), and a generous dusting of ricotta salata, (representing the snow) dedicated to his opera: La Norma. It is said that his pleasure upon tasting it reinforced his spirit and humor, convincing him to continue. According to anecdote, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the international mercenary, was a non-drinker. But he was unable to resist the sweet taste of Marsala. Disembarking with his “Thousands” in the city of wine (on May 12, 1860), he began his mission to invade the Reign of the Two Sicilies for the  king of Savoy.

 

 

 

 

Marsala Florio Cantines ancient bottles collection 2 copy smallHe so loved that sweet wine that it later took the name DG, after him. Still to this day, bottles of sweet Marsala carry the letters, DG, or, “Dolce Garibaldi”.
Modern wine production has surely changed with respect to the “recent past”, and certainly reflects other changes in Sicily, though delayed in comparison with the rest of Europe, on a historic and economic level, though always within the same “religious” respect for habits and traditions that are still maintained today.

 

 

  

Etna vineyard _1 copy x web

Sicilian winemaking has a nonlinear history, due to the diverse microclimates and scattered cultivation in many of the territories: from the very first crops on Etna, with its volcanic earth, to the layered organization of the Biblino plantations of Syracuse, covered by very fertile agrarian soil constituted largely from the breakage of 

Feudo Arancio Sambuca di Sicilia copyunderlying limestone and organic substances. to the distant fields of Trapani, to the grand estates of Marsala.