On Friday evening we invited our friends upstairs, Nunzia and Antonio for dinner. It was our anniversary (38 years!) but not really the reason for the invitation. They have done so many nice things for us we just wanted to return a little of the favor. Originally I thought it would be fun to make a typically American meal for them but the harder I thought about it the more I decided I couldn't really do that because I don't think I really cook like "an American." My family is Italian. If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that my grandparents were born in Italy - I am an "Italo-Americana" and my repertoire of meals consists largely of dishes I learned to make from my mother. And, as America is such a melting pot, borrowing from so many cultures to form a cuisine, who is to say what is truly American anyway? OK, a roasted turkey for Thanksgiving, maybe fried chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs (these last ones, not exactly stuff you want to serve your Italian friends!) Is a roast beef and mashed potatoes American or is it from the British? Is a Virginia Baked Ham truly an American invention? Pork chops? Macaroni and cheese (ooh baby!) So anyway, ultimately I decided that I would just fix them something I knew how to do and see if they thought my idea of Italian food would be pleasing to them and if they would think it was more "Italian" than "American."
For starters I made my sister-in-law Elaine's Slow Roasted Tomatoes. I don't know where she got the recipe (or if she invented it herself!) but it is a hit every time I serve it. Nunzia and Antonio loved it too and asked me how to make it. "Facile!" I said (easy) and promised to give them the recipe. (Simply add olive oil, basil and garlic to those little cherry tomatoes and roast it in a 325 degree oven for around 30 or 40 minutes until the skins pop and you can smush the tomatoes a bit to make a kind of salsa you spread on toasted bread or top pasta with.)
I made my own version of eggplant parmigiana with the long skinny eggplant we get here, breaded and fried it and layered it with slices of fresh tomato and provolone cheese and baked it in the oven. I made chicken cutlet parmegiana also and they liked it too and were completely surprised to see this dish prepared with meat, since they only know it with eggplant! I got some fresh pasta to toss with my meat sauce and in the middle of cooking the pasta our gas bottle (the "bombola") ran out of gas! Nunzia had to run upstairs to finish cooking the pasta and then we all sat down to eat. Antonio said that a sauce made by an Italian would have had more pepperoncino in it and been a bit more spicy, but hurried to add that he liked it all the same. They brought a tray of the most delicious pastries for dessert and we opened the Eiswein our friends Andrea and Vincent brought as a gift for us from Germany. By then it was time for them to go to Cetara and take home their little son Manuel who was left with his grandparents for the evening so his parents could enjoy their little night out without having to chase after him or worry about what he might get into in our definitely non-child-safe apartment!
We were so happy we could do this and ultimately it was decided that the meal I prepared was somewhere between true authentic Italian and American-Italian, but more of an Italo-Americana meal, just like the chef!
Rosemary and Bob