Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I did it! I won! Though some of you might have predicted the results, as far as I was concerned, the winner of the Italian Throwdown Showdown was totally up for grabs. As expected, my dad made his Veal Marsala and linguine with olive oil and garlic. As promised, I made Cook's Illustrated's favourite Eggplant Parmesan and my oft-tried tiramisu. Just as we had negotiated, we worked together. I gave him my list of ingredients and dad picked everything up for me - one less carbon emission, let's say. But because he was only able to get the shopping after work, I didn't begin to start cooking until after 5 pm. So it was a European-style late supper that the family enjoyed. My sister tied everyone over with an antipasto platter of cheeses, meat, and olives, and there was plenty of Chianti Classico to go around.
I began by preparing the dessert, as the tiramisu gains much from spending an extra hour or two in the refrigerator. The recipe explains that it should be made at least 12 hours in advance, preferably a whole day before. Given our time constraints and the busy lives we lead, it only got a couple of hours in the fridge, but that didn't seem to matter much. In fact, when I served it to my mom at the end of the meal she said it was the best thing she had ever tasted. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The eggplant recipe was more complicated than I anticipated, due to the extra half hour that the salted slices have to sit and drain before they can be breaded, baked, and assembled. Do not forgo this salting step, though, as it is crucial for removing the excess moisture from the eggplant and also giving it that extra salting before adding the sauce and cheese. I loved that the sauce recipe provided by Cook's Illustrated was so simple. Everything but the fresh basil was already on hand, or could easily have been if I was the one stocking the pantry:
3 14 oz cans of diced Italian tomatoes - 2 of them pureed
4 minced cloves of garlic sautéed in 4 Tablespoons of olive oil
a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- all boiled and then simmered together until slightly reduced
salt and pepper to taste, a handful of chopped fresh basil
And, even though it's not in the recipe, a pinch of sugar to balance out the acidity from the tomatoes
Even my sister's boyfriend, Ed was able to enjoy the eggplant, or as I redubbed it for him (allergic to eggs) Edplant Parmesan. I created a personal sized portion, where I slightly altered the preparation of the eggplant. Just like the recipe called for, I dredged the eggplant slices in flour. But, rather than coating in egg as instructed, I substituted in some skim milk, before coating the eggplant in my mixture of bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. I tasted both. There was nary a difference. Both Ed's and our dish was spectacular.
My dad's veal wasn't bad either. Though, and I agree with her, my mom quietly mentioned at the table that she'd had better veal from my dad in the past. I wonder if he sabotaged himself for my own pride and self-esteem. If he didn't fine, I'm just a better cook. If he did, then he's a darling old soul who deserves the best meals Italy has on offer.
Special thanks to Cook's Illustrated and Camille le Foll's Modern French Classics for the recipes. Both are stalwart publications that I return to again and again.
The wine we enjoyed with our Italian Spectacular Spectacular was:
Contessa Di Radda Chianti Classico, 2005 Riserva, DOC Gaiole, 13%, crisp, herbaceous, red fruit and berry notes on the nose carry over to the flavours. Medium body with raspberry and red cherry fruit finish. Made from Sangiovese. Well balanced. Easy to drink now.
Clos Mont-Blanc, Masia Les Comes Reserva 2005, DOC Conca de Barbera, 13.5%, powerful stone fruit and berry aromas, pepper and leather notes on the palate. Slightly tannic finish. A beautifully crafted Spanish wine that pairs quite nicely with acidic tomato dishes and hearty meat courses. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Could be put down for 2 or 3 years to soften.

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