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My Italian homework

I'm still learning Italian - I don't quite know why as it is exceedingly unlikely that I shall ever visit Italy again, and I knew that even before the current crisis. I guess it's good brain exercise, although the dark side of that is that I realise how bad I am at this these days. I don't remember words and I get my verb tenses mixed up. So I end up a bit depressed.

Anyway we are obviously not going to Italian lessons at the moment and so our Italian teacher is phoning us for an Italian conversation every couple of weeks and in between giving us some exercises to do. With the current set of recipes she has given us three recipes that we could perhaps try. So I decided to talk about the first one - Polpette di melanzane - eggplant meatballs.

Yes it is a classic dish, though I'm not sure from which part of Italy - one site suggested Milan, and I think another one said Sicily, so who knows. However, even though it is a classic dish, my Italian cookbook 'library' did not have any recipes for it - well maybe The Silver Spoon which I did not check. But that has just about everything. And my Women's Weekly Italian Cookbook 2 had some fritters, but not balls. Certainly if you feed the Italian name to Google you will get heaps of recipes, and also, to be fair if you feed in the English name you will get a lot too.

Fundamentally they consist of mashed eggplant - take your pick as to how you cook your eggplant - from boiling, through steaming to roasting - and whether you keep the skin or not. Then you add cheese, breadcrumbs and egg, roll in egg and breadcrumbs and fry. That's the basic idea, but of course there are multiple variations, ranging from what else you add to the mix, to how you actually cook them. Being a vegetarian dish of course, some go super healthy and do not fry them, and if you want to be vegan I guess you have to omit the cheese and the egg. I had a quick look for the vegans and basically it just confirmed to me that vegan is just too hard. The basic two approaches seemed to be to use imitation cheese instead of the cheese, and soaked chia or flax seed to glue them together - or forget the cheese altogether and use things like canned beans to glue them together. Not one for me.

But I'm all for vegetarian and these would make either a pretty good appetiser or snack, served with or without something to dip them in, or else cooked in a sauce like my meatballs and spaghetti the other day. Then of course you can add other things - something green like spinach, or maybe just a herb. My recipe suggested basil or thyme.

In my search for variations I found a couple from Yotam Ottolenghi - well I guess it's a perfect dish for mixing Middle-eastern and Italian food isn't it? After all he is half and half himself. I don't think I'll count the fritters as variations although I guess they are - after all it's the same sort of mixture but in a different shape.

I would have a go but eggplants are pretty expensive in the supermarket. I do miss the Queen Victoria market. I have tried growing them for myself in the past but without much success. Anyway here are a couple more to add to the two shown above. At the top of the page is a recipe from Stefano Manfredi on the SBS website and just above this text is one from a blog called An Italian in my Kitchen. Then below on the left are Yotam Ottolenghi's Aubergine and ricotta dumplings in tomato sauce, his Aubergine croquettes and on the right from another blog called Your Guardian Chef, Deep-fried aubergine balls which seem to have quite a lot of greenery in them.

I guess the croquettes are not really balls so I should have left them out, like the fritters, but never mind.

Apologies for being a bit boring again and just listing recipes. Interesting though that I seem to be focussing more and more on the infinite variations you can concoct from just a couple of ingredients. Maybe that's what cooking is all about really. First learn what all your ingredients are and the possible methods of cooking them, then learn what those ingredients go with and then invent something.

A final thought - to vary even more, you could use some other vegetable - pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, potato - no not potato - then that's gnocchi! It's all so fluid though isn't it? Mash something up - preferably with cheese and flavourings, coat in breadcrumbs and fry - or roast. The possibilities are endless.

The other two recipes I was given for my homework are interesting too. Might do them another day. I'll try to think of something more interesting in between.


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