Monday, June 18, 2012

A Day of my Favorite Things! (Part 1)

Well.... believe it or not, it has taken me quite a while to get up to date with our journey thus far! (And I still have quite a few posts about Italy left before I get to London... not having our computer charger definitely put me behind!)
I have already posted about our time in Capri, and now I have the great pleasure to share such a great experience with you! When T and I were talking about getting one another wedding presents, he decided that he would give me my present on our honeymoon.  T has always been the BEST gift giver! From the very first gift that he ever gave me, and until now, and everything in between! If you need advice on what to get someone, T may be the person you need to talk to! Well, he did it again! He definitely had something up his sleeve when he told me that my wedding present would be given to me in Italy! He had been planning it all along, and it was well worth the wait! If you can't tell by now, you need to know that I LOVE food! Fresh markets, gardens, organic products, cooking, and Italy, are a few things in life that really make me happy; besides my family and friends of course! Well, this present had most all of those things encompassed into one! We are in Italy, the place we were headed to had a beautiful garden, they use all organic products, everything is freshly made from their garden or bought at a fresh local market, and... the best part, we had a full day of cooking and eating ahead of us! Seriously... the best wedding present ever!

With empty stomachs (they told us not to eat anything before arriving), and huge grins on our faces, we were up by 8:30, quickly got ready, met our driver outside, and were on our way, down and up the curvy roads to another Amalfi Coast town, Ravello.  Ravello is a town that is high above the water.  We choose not to stay in this town because it is hard to get to the Sea, however, after visiting here for the day, we decided that we are very happy that we were able to experience the views! Oh the views.... so different from Positano... and so amazing!

Here are some views of Ravello from Mamma Agata's 250 year old home!

We were first greeted by Chiarra, Mamma Agata's daughter.  She was so kind, upbeat, and friendly! She showed us to the amazing terrace, where we would eat, and capture all of these amazing views! You could tell that she was so proud of her home, her culture, and was so happy to share it all with us! She was so attentive to everyone's allergies.  Having many myself, she made sure which peanut products I could not have, and made sure she knew all of the details from a woman who was allergic to garlic.  We thought that was a terrible allergy to have in Italy, and then she told us that someone she had over earlier in the week was allergic to basil! How terrible!

We were ushered over to a long table, the place where we would all enjoy our creations.  I love long tables, and it was beautiful, especially with the view behind it.  We were offered Mamma Agata's famous Lemon cake, cappuccinos, coffees, tea, whatever we wanted.  We were also given an apron to put on for the day, and we were able to take it home at the end!

The beautiful table

Me in my apron, overlooking the fabulous view

We first met everyone at the table.  There were two sisters from Dublin, Ireland, two friends from Toronto, Canada, a couple from Australia, two sisters from the states, another couple from Boston, and T and I.  12 people total, not too big, not too small!  After meeting our new friends for the day, eating our lemon cake, and drinking our drink of choice, we were finally welcomed into the kitchen!  It was such a cute, typical Italian kitchen.  We all hovered around the middle island, patiently awaiting our next move.  

Our first lesson was about making eggplant.  A task that is often hard to accomplish the correct way.  We actually made a lot of eggplant dishes during this class, and I can't wait to try them at home.  We first learned how to pick out the correct eggplant and how to peel it.  

This is Chiarra telling us that you should always pick the long slender eggplant.  Also, when peeling them, you should peel them to look like a zebra.  The bitter part of the eggplant is mostly in the skin, therefore, it is nice to get rid of some of it, hence the zebra pattern.

The next step was to slice the eggplant into medium slices, not too thick, yet not too thin.  The eggplant will shrink a little bit, so if they are too thin, they will shrivel up.  After slicing them, she suggested that you put them in your sink and pour decent amounts of sea salt on them.  The salt brings out the natural water in the eggplant, and you never want to wash the salt off.  After letting the eggplant sit in the sink, with the salt, for at least 30 minutes, you will then ring out the eggplant.  A tip that I never knew before! 

Here is Mamma Agata, ringing out the Eggplant.

For all of the Eggplant dishes that we were going to make, the Eggplant would need to be fried.  She then showed us how to di this next step.  

After ringing out the eggplant, make sure that you have grapeseed oil or corn oil, heating on the stove.  It should not be boiling, just really hot.  Then, you lightly dust the Eggplant with a special type of flour.  No egg, no water, just a light dust of flour. Next, you would place the lightly dusted eggplant into the hot oil.  She never seemed to mind how many pieces she put into the pot.

The special flour

Mamma Agata dropping the Eggplant into the hot oil

Frying Eggplant!

After frying the eggplant, then you must remember to pat them off with a towel and drain them in a strainer.  

Our first mini meal was to take a piece of fried eggplant, put a little Parmesan cheese, and then your fixings of choice.  Our choices were homemade sun-dried tomatoes, pickled pumpkin, smoked mozzarella cheese, and a little bit of a chili pepper mixture that she called 'red hell.' T said that it was very hot!

Our toppings for our eggplant!

Our 'Italian breakfast' and a glass of wine... yes a glass of wine at 11:00 in the morning.  I have to admit, that is a first, especially with breakfast!

We then proceeded back to the kitchen to make some eggplant roll-ups.  We used the same eggplant again, and the same toppings.  However, this time, we also used some ricotta cheese.

 Making some of the Eggplant roll-ups... perfect appetizers!

The final product!

Next, we made the tomato sauce that we used for the Eggplant Parmigiana.  It was very simple, and not the way that I would have thought it was made.  First, she poured a good amount of olive oil in a saucepan, without turning on the heat.  Then she added a few handfuls of basil.  She said that you have to add the basil to the oil when it is not hot so that the basil does not burn.  Next, you turn on the stove top to medium low.  When the oil gets hot, but not boiling, you add in the fresh tomato sauce, or a good brand of canned tomatoes.  Here is what it looked like.

  Olive oil, basil and tomato puree.

We then proceeded to make Eggplant Parmigiana, fritters, lemon, garlic chicken, sausage and peppers, farmers spaghetti, drink more wine, look at more beautiful views, and enjoy the wonderful day!
However, if I kept on writing, this post would get even longer, no one would read it, and my hands would start to cramp.  I have to get ready for bed! Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow! 


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