Battling through winter – and a return to my magnificent Italy

Let me start this post by apologising to all my lovely followers for being absent from our blogging world the last few weeks. I’ve been unwell, a nasty winter virus that seems to have lasted an age. Have you ever had a cough that you thought would never leave you??!

Fortunately we’re in our final week of winter in New Zealand. September heralds the beginning of spring. It may take a while for the temperatures to start rising but at least there are lighter mornings and evenings to enjoy in the meantime.

So how does one boost themselves after battling through winter and the horrible bugs that come with it? Well, my husband and I decided to sit down at the laptop and book a holiday. Always a sure way to lift my spirits.

We were in agreement that next year we wanted a holiday that provided an escape from winter. Living in the southern hemisphere means there are ample options on the other side of the world to enjoy a holiday in the sun while New Zealand struggles through winter.

So where to go?

I’ve heard it said before that you shouldn’t return to a place twice. It’s never quite the same. I have found that Italy, for me, is the exception to this rule. In particular the Campania region in southwestern Italy. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are just a couple of gems to be found. There is something wonderful about finding a place in the world where you feel like the best version of yourself.

Giuseppe Verdi, a leading Italian composer, once said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy”. Did he write this for me? I’m sure not. But I would gladly give the universe (not that it’s mine to give away) for Italy.

So today I thought I would share with you some of my favourite memories from this beautiful region of Italy. Perhaps you’ll see why I’m so happy to be returning – two weeks in the Italian sunshine! It’s a place I can’t imagine ever tiring of – the food, the people, the history, the beauty. It is quite simply ‘my place’.

 

Ravello – a town in the hills above Amalfi. My husband was brave enough to drive the Amalfi coast road to get us there. My hero! We were rewarded with a delicious lunch while enjoying what has to be one of the best views on the Coast.

 

Capri – a very swanky island in the Bay of Naples. Fashionable hotels and boutiques are aplenty but the island has a beautiful landscape and some incredible views. It’s also where I paid 11 euros for a cappuccino!

 

Positano – you really must experience travelling to Positano by boat. The way in which the town scrambles up the hillside with those bursts of colour is magnificent and so thrilling when you see it from the water.

 

Pompeii – not to be missed when visiting this region of Italy. This historical site was once a thriving Roman city that has a fascinating and yet tragic history. Very moving.

 

Sorrento – where my husband and I choose to base ourselves when we visit this part of Italy. It is often called the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and has great transport links to anywhere you want to go. I love the view of the Bay of Naples from the cliff edge. I love the alleyways and the markets and Marina Grande. I just love it.

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But of all the things I love about Italy there is one that trumps everything else – the food.

And with that being said I thought it appropriate to end this post with a recipe for perhaps my favourite Italian dish – Melanzane alla Parmigiana (melanzane is the Italian word for aubergine or eggplant as it is also known).

Considering my love of Italian cuisine it’s a bold statement but I really do think this dish is the most perfect pairing of ingredients. Below is my version. I have posted the recipe previously but I thought it was perfect for this post and thought a second outing was most appropriate.

 

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

Serves 4

 

Tomato Sauce

25g unsalted butter

Dash olive oil

1 onion

2 fat cloves garlic

Small handful fresh oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano

700g bottle tomato passata

250ml water

Salt and pepper

Handful fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces

 

4 aubergines

Olive oil

100g grated Parmesan cheese

100g fresh Mozzarella cheese

 

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Firstly get a pan on the hob for the aubergines. You can use a griddle pan or a good heavy-based frying pan. You need to get the pan to a high heat.

Now get started with the tomato sauce.

Peel the onion and garlic cloves and roughly chop them. Pop into the bowl of a food processor with the fresh oregano leaves and dried oregano. Blitz until you have a fine oniony pulp.

Heat a large pan and add the butter with a dash of olive oil. Once the butter has melted and is just starting to sizzle add the onion pulp and sauté until soft and the liquid from the onions has evaporated. This should only take a few minutes.

Add the bottle of passata and the water and stir well. Season with salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Bring to a good simmer and leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes. By this time it should have reduced a little and thickened. Taste and check the seasoning. Once you’re happy remove from the heat and stir through the basil leaves.

While the tomato sauce is simmering you can cook the aubergines. To prepare them, trim each end and then cut lengthways into 1cm slices. Brush each side with olive oil. Place them in the pan and cook each side until charred and golden. You’ll need to do this in batches.

After each batch place the slices on a plate lined with kitchen towel and place a piece of kitchen towel between each batch as you transfer to the plate.

Once the aubergines and tomato sauce are ready you can start constructing the dish.

You’ll see below the oven dish I’ve used (approx. 26cm x 26cm) but an oval shaped one would also work well. Use a ladle to pour tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish and spread it out into a thin layer. Place a layer of aubergines on top. Now ladle tomato sauce over the aubergines, once again carefully spreading it out so it covers them. Take your Parmesan and sprinkle a layer of the grated cheese over the tomato sauce. Now another layer of aubergines and tomato sauce and another sprinkling of Parmesan. Repeat this once more so that you have three layers of aubergine and finish with layers of tomato sauce and Parmesan.

Slice the fresh mozzarella and place the slices over the top. Sprinkle over a final scattering of Parmesan cheese.

Place the dish on an oven tray and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes. It should be bubbling and the mozzarella should be scorched and golden.

Your kitchen will smell incredible as it bakes.

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Now how to serve this baby. I know it is often considered a vegetable side but I think this very special dish demands to be the star of the show. So I serve it with a crisp green salad and slices of Ciabatta that I’ve lightly grilled. The crunchy bread is absolutely delicious when you use it to mop up the tomato sauce. It’s a beautiful thing.

Buon Appetito!

 

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27 Comments

  1. Jen says:

    Oh, the cough. Tell me about it. We had the nasty flu this winter. It just wouldn’t go away. Half of my co-works were and are still sick. I have been coughing for more than three weeks now. Just awful. On the other hand, we are going to Italy next month. I am so looking forward to it. I hope you are getting better soon, Tracey. Take care. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was there last summer with my car too, and yes it’s really fun to drive there, an adventure itself 😀
    The view from Ravello is breathtaking, we were also on the “terrazza dell’infinito” in Villa Cimbrone, amazing.
    Parmigiana di Melanzane it’s also one of my favorites, we did it also last week 🙂
    In that area I mention also Cetara, where it’s produced the famous “colatura di alici” (a famous fish sauce), and Vietri sul Mare where there are a lot of artisans making the traditional colorful pottery.
    PS: did you try the lemonade made only with the famous local sweet lemons? No sugar it’s needed, the best drink for the summer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Cetara is definitely on my list for our next trip. I’ve heard about its wonderful seafood. I’ve just looked up Vietri sul Mare and will now add this to the list as well – along with that delicious sounding lemonade. We did actually have a favourite little place that made the best limoncello cocktails. I also really want to go back to Ravello because we didn’t get quite enough time to explore the town. Absolutely can’t wait! Thanks so much for stopping by – and the great tips!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope you have recovered well from your cough, they can completely drain you from energy (at least with me), but Italy must have helped a bit. Gosh what a beautiful place it is indeed. I’m going for Christmas and can’t wait.
    That seafood risotto looks amazing. And I love your recipe for Eggplant Parmegian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Myra. Italy at Christmas – how wonderful. You’ll have such a fabulous time. It will be so beautiful at that time of the year. And yes – the seafood risotto was absolutely delicious.

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  4. Welcome Spring – I couldn’t agree with you more Tracey – were are set for 26C tomorrow in Sydney. We also share a love of Italy – I’ve been many times and never tire of it – although we didn’t squeeze in Pompeii. Sicily is next on my list! 🇮🇹

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Couldn’t agree with you more regarding amazing Italy. My wife and I did a private tour with a local group friendly with some people who owned a restaurant at the top of the hill overlooking the Amalfi Coast. They set up an impromptu table and chairs outside and made us lunch along with multiple samplings of food and after meal drinks. It was truly an amazing experience.

    I hope your return brings you and your husband as much fun and excitement as the first time around.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. annika says:

    Hope you are feeling better now dear Tracey. And yes, I have had such a cough before and I know how terrible it can be. I am happy for you (and maybe slightly jealous!) on your second trip to Italy. You know I have always ended up every where I go twice…and most times, not planned that way, but each time has been great and I’d even say the second time is more enjoyable as you are already familiar with things and know exactly how you want to spend your time there. These photos are gorgeous and I’m totally looking forward to seeing those of the next trip. As for the recipe, well, it’s the season of augerbine at the moment over here. My 3 plants won’t be able to give me 4 aubergine all at once but the markets are just exploding with them! Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, lovely Annika. The cough is slowly getting better – I’m feeling much better too but so over the cough! At least I do have Italy to look forward to even though it’s some months away yet (although we are doing London and Florence at Christmas so can’t complain!) Lots of material for my travel posts. How has your summer been? Hope you’ve had a lovely time with your gorgeous family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • annika says:

        Glad that you are feeling better and oh you are a lucky gal with all these wonderful places lined up! Can’t wait to read the posts that come out of your travels. Summer was in one word: fast! The kids are back in school so I have the day to myself to preserve all our local harvest… I imagine winter will be here sooner than later for us!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Rini says:

    Wow that dish looks amazing, Tracey! And your pics remind me of my trip to Italy. I’ve been debating about going back to places I’ve visited before as well, but I guess I’ll see. There’s just so much to see in the world. Also glad to hear you’re feeling better. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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