JEWISH VEGETABLES: PERSIAN EGGPLANT OR “PARMIGIANA”
The 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.
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