Halloween is a favorite holiday around here. My family has always celebrated this day with verve, even though it did not exist in Italy. In fact, Italians in Italy have only recently discovered Halloween. But we embraced all American traditions upon arrival. As landscapers (at least many of the original family members in the United States call that their profession) decorating with pumpkins and cabbages and mums became par for the course. In addition, we look for any excuse to gather round a table, eat, drink, and be merry.
Once my cousins began having kids, I began hosting Halloween blowouts. We had disco balls, costumes, and mummy games. We wrecked the house with toilet paper and battled it out with apple pie contests. Somebody’s pie ended up on the floor and there were accusations of cheating. Needless to say, we never did that again. But we always made up and dug into Nonno’s pasta.
When my son and niece and nephew were born, the festivities took on new meaning for me. Now, this was tradition. We had to make them apart of the celebration. Today, we all take pictures in front of our house in the elaborate Halloween display my landscaper father creates each year. There are giant pumpkins, hay chairs for the photo subjects, and scarecrows, ghosts, and goblins hanging around. The neighborhood kids also jump into the scene while trick or treating. Parents proudly snap photos.
These moments are fleeting. Our children are young for but a minute. Then, it’s over. I’m choosing to savor every second. I miss it already.
Halloween party ideas are my responsibility in this family. Ever since I returned home from four years at college in Washington, D.C., I have been hosting a Halloween party for the kids in the family. First, it was for my cousin’s babies. Now, we all gather for my son, niece, and nephew.
What’s beautiful about this tradition is the older kids still participate. In fact, one of them is studying abroad, and he waxed nostalgic in text messages after viewing images from the 2017 shindig he had to miss. Sometimes, I come up with an entire theme. Once it was a Halloween disco, replete with bright lights. Another time it was “Happy Owl-O-Ween.” We’ve painted pumpkins in our worst clothes. And we’ve dressed up in our Halloween finest (all sorts of costumes). Every year is a little different.
Once in a while, I’m at a loss for time. Still, I do my best to make things special and memorable. To be honest, 2017 was one of those busy years. But I still think I pulled off a pretty great fete. You still have time to do the same. So, discover my easy ideas for celebrating Halloween in a pinch:
Spider Web Cake
This party was also a chance for the family to celebrate my son’s birthday. He had already had a Spider-Man themed party with his friends. I used many of the decorations and ideas twice. I made this rainbow cookie cake from scratch, but you could buy a plain chocolate frosted cake from the grocery store or bakery. Then, you get a pre-packaged pastry bag of icing in white. Draw a tiny circle at the center. Then, draw a larger circle around it. Keep drawing circles until you reach close to the edge of the cake. Finally, take a skewer or one tine of a fork and drag it from the edge of the most inner circle to the edge of the most outer. Repeat that step six to eight times to achieve the look of a web. You can add plastic spiders and sprinkles like I did if you so desire.
Normally, I would suggest making a cake from scratch. It’s generally healthier and tastes better. But when time is of the essence, I find no shame in turning to boxed cake mixes. For these cupcakes, I actually divided the batter in half. I added yellow food coloring to one half, and yellow and red food coloring to the other half (to make orange). Then I layered the two batters for a candy corn effect. After the cupcakes baked and cooled, I topped them with homemade white vanilla icing. Finally I stuck into the top plastic skeletons from the dollar store, which I had washed with soap and water and dried beforehand.
Ice Cream Station
One of the reasons all my cousins keep coming to my Halloween party is the homemade ice cream. I make pumpkin ice cream only for this party, and the folks love it. I usually make one other flavor. In 2017, I opted for Halloween Oreos cookies and cream. Both were delicious if I do say so myself. But before I even get to serving the ice cream, I make a station for the relevant goodies. I picked up sugar cones and used my Cricut Explore Air to cut out sleeves for them in black-and-white printed paper. I also include Halloween sprinkles from craft supply stores, such as Michael’s. Sometimes, you can even find them at the grocery store. Little cups, ice cream spoons, and other assorted toppings all make for a nice touch. Don’t forget the ice cream scoops.
Spider Punch Bowl
My punch bowl is constantly getting dressed up. It has been a turkey for Thanksgiving, a Toy Story alien replete with green punch, and a jack-o-lantern. Because my son loves all things Spider-Man, I went for a spider this time around. I took black pipe cleaners, bent them into shape, and taped them to the side of the bowl with a clear packaging tape. Then, I used that same tape to adhere the big google eyes that I always use in these circumstances. Finally, I cut out (free hand) a smiley face from the same black-and-white paper I used for the ice cream cones. When the party is over, I carefully pull the items off and discard the tape. I reuse everything except the paper mouths and beaks. For the drink to give it that dark color, I used strongly brewed iced tea. Really, anything goes.
In the past, I’ve used orange balloons and used a black marker to make jack-o-lantern faces. In 2017, I used white balloons to make ghosts. You can’t see them in the photo, but some were traditional with three dark ovals for two eyes and a “boo” mouth. My son wanted me to get creative, so some of these have lady eyelashes and other details. As always, you are limited only by your imagination. I had balloon holders and sticks (purchased at Oriental Trading’s site). So, I made a bouquet, put it in a clear vase filled with candy corn, and added a scarecrow pick and some spider-web bows.
On this site, I’ve often discussed the Mummy Game, where you split up in teams and use toilet paper to wrap one person like a mummy. Then, the team that completes the task the fastest wins. In our family, no one really ever wins. But we do get lots of awesome photos. At the end, one cousin always starts toilet papering the house and people start jumping in toilet paper as if we’re in our own ticket-tape parade. Another cousin, of course, gripes that we’re wasting perfectly good toilet paper. He has a point that is why I buy the cheap stuff for this game.
In the past, we’ve also broken into teams for a different kind of costume contest. My mom would put together a bag for each team filled with everyday items, such as a mop head or a garbage bag and a wand or headpiece. Then, the team has 20 minutes to dress up one person using only those items and whatever they have on. This game also never really had winners, but made for fantastic photos and greater memories.
For the first time in 2017, I decided to get web-slinging into the game lineup. It served two purposes – my son’s devotion to Spider-Man and the spider web theme of the Halloween party. So, I bought cans of silly string at the dollar store and let the kids web-sling on each other in our backyard. The teenagers were just as involved in this game as the little ones. My son stayed dressed as Spider-Man the entire time.
The G7 interior ministers are gathering in Ischia, Italy, the Neapolitan island that is home of my ancestors and husband, Oct. 18 to 20, 2017. Reports indicate that these world leaders will be discussing counter-terrorism efforts. Specifically, they will talk about cybersecurity and combatting online recruitment on the part of terrorists.
On a Lighter Note at the G7
But what’s more interesting to someone like me, with ties to the island, is what a high-profile gig this is for the natives. Hotels, restaurants, and local politicians are rolling out the red carpet, practically literally. Ischia Porto’s mayor established a defined path to welcome G7 guests upon arrival at the port. Security is in full force. News reports indicate that schools will be closed during the height of the meetings. Journalists are beginning to arrive and take stock.
Good for a Laugh
One of the funnier reports I read comes from La Reppublica Napoli. It published a photo of a fruit stand in Ischia. Attached to the tomatoes is a sign that reads, “Nun facite guaie cu stu G7.” This more or less translates to “Don’t make a mess at this G7.” While this gives me a giggle, I think the message has two audiences actually.
For one, the fruit seller is warning natives to be gracious and responsible hosts. Having this assignment is a chance for Ischia to get some publicity. The place is beautiful, but few people outside of Italy and some other select areas (parts of Germany and Europe, Russia, Ukraine) know about it. Americans, in fact, are much more familiar with neighboring Capri.
Second, the sign is a message to protesters, who are expected to descend on the island, too. In speaking to natives, I know that’s a concern.
Italy holds the G7 presidency at the moment. In fact, it welcomed the G7’s prime ministers and presidents, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in Taormina, Sicily earlier in the year. As an outsider looking in, I can’t help but imagine that Italy is trying to flaunt the beauty of the south. The mezzogiorno as it is sometimes called is notorious for its economic challenges, crime syndicates, and political corruption.
Lately, there has been more of a trend toward undoing some of that ugliness. Some leaders want to put a spotlight on the positive aspects. Instead of calling for secession, some Italians want to show the promise of the south. Just to look at the splendid sea, lush vegetation, and rich history is to see what could be. For at least the next few days, it is Ischia’s turn to shine on the world stage. That can only be a good thing. After all, to know Ischia is to love it. Perhaps no one recognizes this as much as I do.
How ironic that today, Oct. 11, is the International Day of the Girl. This annual event is meant to bring attention to women’s issues and help women find their voices to lead the charge. In the days leading up to this day, Americans have once again had to face up to powerful men mistreating women. Actually, “mistreatment” is an overwhelming understatement.
This time the story was about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is caught on tape admitting to sexual assault. In addition, he has had numerous famous Hollywood actresses, staff, and others accuse him of sexual harassment and even rape. His disgusting behavior was a joke in Hollywood for years, and no one stood up for these women. Even the Manhattan district attorney and New York Police Department appear to have given him a pass.
Same Old Story
In the last year, we’ve seen this same story play out with numerous other wildly successful men, including Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes. People get on TV and express outrage. They defend women with their words. Commentators applaud them and insist this is a turning point in history. Women are finally getting the respect they deserve.
But are we? For starters, where were these people when the abuse was actually happening? None of them knew? It’s suspect. Did any of them speak up to defend these women then? These same people continue to elect men – to the presidency no less – who allegedly abuse women. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have done this by voting for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Apparently, we can be bipartisan.
Women still earn less than men. We are not well represented in the halls of government. None of us have been elected president. The government just took away our easier access to birth control. It’s trying to take away other forms of women’s health care. We say we appreciate and respect mothers, but we don’t pay attention to anything they need. Child care costs are astronomical, and maternity leave might exist on paper but not necessarily in reality. I could go on. The bottom line is we all have blood on our hands.
See the Women All Around You
As I age, I’ve noticed that the real problem is no one hears or even sees the women all around them. Open your eyes to the invisible woman. She might be sitting right beside you. Somewhere along the way, the world decided it didn’t care what she had to say. No one gave credence to what she wanted to be. Everyone ignored her opinions, desires, and even needs. Worst of all, some of the vile among us took advantage of her vulnerability. They abused her or at least showed apathy in the face of her plight. Now, she speaks but no words come out. She is me. She is you. She is every woman.
We tell our daughters to be strong. We emblazon “Girl Boss” across their chest. We host days such as this to empower our girls. But we fail to tell them the basics about what that really means and how challenging the struggle will actually be. The era of Mad Men never ended. The men just hid their behaviors and forced the women into secret shame.
Where It All Begins
Last weekend I was with my cousins’ children. Three of them are young women in their senior year of high school. We are sending them off to college in less than a year. It has me thinking about the turning points in a woman’s life, beginning with high school graduation.
I attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. more than 20 years ago now. Early on in my time there I recognized that the road for women was still steep and blocked at many turns. One of the first assignments I had for the college newspaper was to cover the annual Take Back the Night rally. This is when young women – and a few progressive men – march through the streets to draw attention to women’s issues. Specifically, they want to call out the domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and rape that is still too pervasive in our culture. Those marches usually take place around this time of year.
When I Started to Disappear
On that fateful night in 1996, I listened to the stories of young women who experienced violence and rape. And I learned of the infamous shoe trees that lined a street of fraternity houses. The women said the shoes represented every time two fraternity brothers had sex with the same woman. The accusation lit a fire on campus that lasted pretty much the entire four years I studied there.
Men insisted the women were hysterical, even if some of them admitted the true meaning of the shoes. In continuing to report on the fraternities on campus, I experienced the intimidation of some of the fraternities firsthand. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity met me at their door for an interview. They were certain to position themselves on the top of the steps and left me beneath them on a lower step. They were always in a group of two or three whenever they talked to me. They kept their arms folded and stood up to block my view and keep me beneath them.
You Can’t Knock Us Down
Already much larger than I was, the men seemed like giants. And then they would respond to my questions by accusing me of being the problem. They told me to stop writing about this. After all, the media is to blame for the fact that they reportedly had rigged their bedroom doors, so women who walked in could not get out.
At the time, regardless of the numerous violations against the fraternity and the fact that the university no longer recognized it as a formal group, the national office of SAE continued to support the young men. These are adults, who oversee the individual chapters. And they would not listen to young women or other adults running the George Washington University.
Back then, Bill Clinton was in the White House just a few blocks from our campus. He was taking advantage of his position of power to have sex with a young intern, not much older than I was. Soon, my friends and I with brown hair would be photographed on the off chance that one of us was Monica Lewinsky whenever we went to the Watergate to get groceries. For my internship, I had to stand in a line at a bookstore for hours to pick up the The Starr Report filled with sensational details of the President’s sexual affair. I began to lose faith.
How I Vanished
For years, I believed in the power of the pen. I thought uncovering these ugly truths would bring about change. That was more than 20 years ago. Nothing has changed. In fact, it might have gotten worse. In college, I started to morph into a ghost. You could still see me, but I was starting to disappear. As my heart grew, my voice became smaller. Fewer people paid attention to my words. I wasn’t used to it.
Then, I wed an Italian, who I love deeply. We have a relationship based on mutual respect. He loves me, too. We support each other’s pursuits, including career. But you have to compromise in a relationship. Unfortunately, the Italian-American culture is still imperfect. It’s a battle of the sexes in some instances. Once I put on a wedding ring, even fewer people cared what I had to say. What was left of my apparition was becoming fainter.
Motherhood As Silencer
Once I gave birth to a child – a miracle and perhaps the greatest physical feat anyone can accomplish – I completely disappeared once and for all. What’s crazier is that’s about the time your words come into focus. It’s the sweet spot when you understand the struggle of your mother and her mother and her mother. It’s the moment when your purpose becomes so significant that you almost can’t bear the weight on your shoulders. Becoming a mother is when you feel compelled to lift up your voice and shove it out into the world. After all, nothing you’ve said or done up to this point has mattered so much.
It’s About to Get Noisy Up in Here
So, I spoke. I yelled. But all anyone heard was the muffled mutterings of a mother. Who cares what she thinks anyway? Yet, we are listening to disgusting men who put their hands on women without permission and hide behind their money and so-called achievements. We allow them to walk free after they perpetrated despicable crimes. They took away the sense of security and perhaps even the confidence of young women. Still, we put them in charge of our lives. We allow them to lead our children, our country.
We listened as President Donald Trump suggested he could grab a woman’s privates simply because he was rich and famous. It was the height of arrogance and inequality. Yet, we made him our President. Clearly, we still don’t even consider what mom thinks. She remains invisible. Oops, it looks like I’m speaking up again. I’M SCREAMING, IN FACT. Are you finally willing to listen?
Visit Italy, and you will be mesmerized. Regardless of the time of year, you will see its beauty and history. And you will taste its delicious food and wine. Still, each season provides a different perspective and therefore a unique experience. Deciding when is the best time for your visit depends on a number of factors. For instance, if you are planning to travel to Italian islands, the winter is pretty much dead. But if Florence or Venice is calling your name, any time would work.
Discover what each season offers to tourists:
In general, fall is my favorite time of year to head to Italy. Airfare is cheaper than it is at the height of summer. The crowds have all returned to school and work. And the weather remains delightful, especially down south. In fact, I’ve been to the beach in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, well into September and even October. In addition, all the thermal pools are open through November. The rest of the country is usually cooling off, at least compared to the hot temperatures of July and August. The most popular sites, such as the museums or the Colosseum in Rome, have fewer visitors. People traffic is no longer an issue in the big cities and hot spots. To visit Italy in fall, is to take a real vacation. It allows you the time to truly relax.
Colder weather is a deal breaker for some visitors. But others long for the snow in the north. In fact, many come to cities, such as Torino, just for the skiing and other snow sports. There’s no question that you can avoid crowds during this season in Italy. Also, the prices for airfare and hotels is usually the lowest in January and February after the holiday season.
While I’ve been in Ischia and Naples during the winter months, I wouldn’t advise people to go there during the dead season. Few natives are on the islands, and many of the hotels, restaurants, and other sites are either closed or open only sporadically during winter. The holidays are an exception; hotels and even some restaurants will open for the Christmas season, even on the islands. The hiking and swimming in the oceans are pretty much impossible because of the temperatures. Still, if you have family there as I do, it might be a nice time to go to spend uninterrupted time with them.
One warning, however, is about the heating available. I find myself cold to the bone whenever I’m in Ischia in the winter. Much of the south is similar. Though the temperatures never drop as much as they do in my hometown in New Jersey, the homes are made of cement. And no one uses heat 24 hours per day. There’s high humidity, which makes it a wet cold instead of a dry one. Babies and older people and those susceptible to ailments, such as bronchitis, might not want to be even in the warmer south during the winter.
Europe, in general, is a popular destination come springtime. Spring break and Easter are popular dates for travel during this period. Because demand is up, the airfare and hotels tend to charge more. This is a lovely time of year to visit Italy. But you have to be prepared for a range of weather. In the north and central parts of the country, you may still experience snow or low temperatures. In the south, don’t be surprised if you get lots of rain. The dampness has gotten to me at this time of year more than once.
Still, this can be a nice time to visit. First, you get to see some of the spring rituals – beginning the gardening, preparing for holidays, such as Easter, and seeing the buds come to life. Second, you also don’t have to deal with the heavy crowds you’ll find in the summer. In late spring, on the islands and coast in the south, you might even get a few beach days. For instance, the thermal spas and pools in Ischia are usually open by late spring, weather permitting.
Hiking is optimal because the weather is usually not too cold or too hot. While the sites, such as museums, might be packed during the week of Easter and the week after (especially in Rome and Vatican City), the rest of the spring is usually less crowded. What I always love about being in Italy during this spring is that the whole nation is coming back to life.
Summer is the most popular season for travelers for a reason. Obviously, in many places, schools are out, so families prefer this time of year. Also, the warmer temperatures mean less uncertainty about the weather. This is appealing whether you’re heading south for the beaches or looking to discover beautiful cities and historic sites. The downside is that sometimes Italy experiences major heat waves. Because electricity is so costly and the people believe too much air conditioning can make you sick, you don’t always have easy access to AC. It is, however, becoming more available, especially in major cities.
While I go to Italy just about every year in the summer, I can’t recommend it for everyone. It is super crowded. Estimates have shown that the population on the small island of Ischia, where I stay, triples in August. Indeed, most Italians have either the entire month or a significant portion of it off from work, which means they are all on vacation, too. Often, they visit parts of their own country. I have referred to it as the siesta on steroids.
But the summer is full of fun, especially if you’re heading to any of Italy’s incredible beaches. You can experience the pagan holiday of Ferragosto that is uniquely Italian. The sun and sand are essential for serenity. So, if you’re willing to deal with human traffic jams while walking down the street or bathing in the ocean, then you might pick summer for your journey.
My people in Italy are lovers of some American desserts, especially no-bake cheesecake. They are particularly devoted to New York cheesecake, which requires sour cream. There’s no sour cream in Italy, at least not in Ischia, the island off the coast of Naples that is home to my ancestors and husband. And I’m a decent baker but not a superstar. Baked cheesecake intimidates me.
Then, one day one of my cousins in the United States shared a recipe for no-bake cheesecake from Cool Whip, which is available online from Kraft. It was so easy because it included cream cheese, Cool Whip, a pre-made graham cracker crust, and canned blueberry or cherry pie filling. There’s none of that, not even graham crackers, in Ischia. But I was determined to bring the cheesecake to the people. And I quickly figured out a way to rewrite the recipe for a land, where nothing is ever easy, especially in the kitchen. And I added Oreos to boot.
Recipe for Oreo No-Bake Cheesecake
1 package of 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Whipped cream (see recipe below)
1 package of Oreo cookies (or chocolate sandwich cookies)
Melted butter (about 4 tbsp)
For whipped cream:
1 and 1/3 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Using a handheld mixer or whisk attachment on a stand mixer to mix the cream cheese and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. Use the high setting to make sure it melds together and the cream cheese is soft enough to easily mix it with the whipped cream later. Next, make the whipped cream. You might have to first clean your mixer if it’s the only one you have. Mix the heavy cream, other 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and vanilla with a handheld or stand mixer on high until soft peaks form. Then, gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. This is the cheesecake portion of your cheesecake.
Make the pie crust by crushing Oreos. I use a food processor when I’m in the States; in Italy, I place about six Oreos in a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them to crumbs. Add melted butter to the crumbs to get them to stay in one place. Then, spread them into the bottom and slightly up the sides of a pie dish.
Finally, add the cream cheese and whipped cream mixture on top of the crust. Then, break up Oreos to garnish. I’ve also nixed the Oreos in favor of sprinkles and a happy birthday sign. See below. Of course, you could also use graham crackers, instead of Oreos and top with fruit or something else entirely. Use your imagination.
Bagno Corrado is where my husband, son, and I go to the beach in Ischia, Italy. We rent chairs and umbrellas from the owner, and then we have lunch or dinner at the quaint beach eatery. The place is simple – a small kitchen with a deck for diners to eat and take in a view of open umbrellas as far as the eye can see. During the summer, you can actually have dinner there, too, on some nights.
It’s one of my son’s favorite places because he loves the chicken cutlet and fries. We kind of can’t go to the beach anymore without taking him there. But today we’re going to show you the showstoppers of the kitchen. Sample the dishes that make this unlike any beach grub you’ve ever eaten. Promise.
From Your Table
The deliciousness begins with the natural wonder all around you. There’s the perfume of the sea, the beautiful people lounging on the beach, and the air of relaxation.
Earth and Sea
One of my favorite dishes from this latest trip to Ischia was this long pasta with porcini mushrooms and clams. The combination of the earthy mushrooms with the sweet seafood was unexpected and delicious. It also brings together two of Ischia’s culinary treasures. My people have been foraging for porcini in the hills of Ischia for generations. And the clams of the sea are the freshest you’ll ever taste.
In the heat of August in Ischia, you don’t really want to eat a heavy meal of pasta. In those moments, a dish like this seafood salad is a welcome respite. With a touch of olive oil and lemon, these mussels, clams, octopus, and more are refreshing and light. I can’t stress enough how friggin’ good the seafood is here.
A Little Mussel
Mussels and toasted Italian bread in this slightly spicy tomato broth is a little piece of heaven on Earth. A good friend of mine once visited Ischia and ate these shellfish in these soupy sauces. Her reaction was that she’d like to bathe in it and drink all the bath water. Indeed, I can’t argue with her. It would be divine.
Pot of Gold
The beauty of eating octopus in Ischia is that almost all the professionals know how to cook it properly. You never chew on rubber here. The octopus is soft and delicious. This one was no exception. Mixed in with the mussels, the octopus was extra special. You felt like you stumbled upon treasure with every bite of it.
Seeing Red, Tasting Red
Tomatoes in the summer in Ischia are the ultimate in juiciness and taste. Team them up with baby octopus and squid and al dente pasta and you have a winner.
A Real Pick Me Up
Tiramisu – the original with espresso – is on just about every dessert menu and mamma’s repertoire in Ischia. This is a unique take that replaces espresso with a pistachio-based cream. It’s addictive and delightful. Made by the owner’s wife, this tiramisu also has heaps of love in it. And it’s adorable presentation never goes unnoticed.
Get Over Here
Pull up a lounge chair on the beach before, after, or even during your meal. (That’s right, Bagno Corrado serves small bites and drinks right on the beach.) What are you waiting for?
Leonardo da Vinci was a true Renaissance man. He was an inventor, painter, sculptor, scientist, architect, and mathematician. Certainly, his work was complex. Life, during any era, is complicated. Perhaps, that’s why da Vinci recognized the importance of simplicity.
This image of a red touring bicycle leaning against the railings overlooking the sea in Ischia, Italy speaks to that message. In an era of hot cars and roaring trucks, a bicycle is simple. In a time when everyone is throwing themselves into the rat race, people wading in the sea or sunbathing on a rock are the picture of simplicity.
Truly, that’s what the sweet life, especially on an island, is all about. What has been devastating to me in recent days is how Mother Nature has attacked that simplicity. The earthquake that took down homes and a church in Casamicciola in Ischia is one example. But now I am watching the decimation of islands all across the Caribbean and Florida Keys, not to mention cities in Florida, all the victims of Hurricane Irma.
Still, there is beauty to be found in this tragedy. Neighbors helping neighbors, political leaders on different sides of the aisle coming together to support victims, the deer and birds roaming among the debris in the Keys are all reminders of peace. They are all part of that simplicity that island life usually brings to people. As a result, you can feel the hope in your being.
Granted, a storm that causes this much devastation causes stress. None of these islands are immune to stress, especially at this time. But Mother Nature giveth and Mother Nature taketh away. In this moment, she has taken away but the giving is just around the corner. A bit of sunshine and some elbow grease may go a long way to making a comeback. The islanders know their vulnerability. But they realize their strength more.
Eggplant parmigiana is a favorite dish in Italy and the United States alike. But you might be surprised to learn about the differences between the two versions in each country. For starters, in Italy it is a contorno or side dish, not a main dish. Indeed, the waiters in Italy might look at you funny if that’s all you order. It’s like asking just for a side of broccoli and nothing else.
In any event, there are many other differences, too. In the United States, we sometimes refer to the dish as eggplant parmesan or eggplant parm. We need to differentiate it from chicken or veal parm, which don’t really exist in Italy. On the other hand, Italians call the dish la parmigiana. They don’t even have to confirm it’s eggplant. That’s already understood.
The Biggest Difference Lies in the Recipe
Italians cook up eggplant parmigiana in a different way than Americans. To begin, the ingredients are different. Italians use fresh mozzarella, which is wetter than the blocks of mozzarella many Americans use. Italians make the marinara sauce from scratch. Some Americans do, too, but many home cooks use jars of the stuff.
But by far the widest gap between Italian eggplant parmigiana and the American version is breadcrumbs. Italians never coat the eggplant in breadcrumbs first, which means no eggs or anything else. Instead, they thinly slice and fry the naked suckers in olive oil. When you get comfortable breaking the rules, you can use Nonno’s Sunday Funday sauce instead of the marinara. The meat makes it a heartier dish.
If you want to make traditional, genuine Italian eggplant parmigiana like I did as evidenced by the photo above, then here are your instructions:
Recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana
Eggplants (about 3 medium to large eggplants)
Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese (the real stuff imported from Italy, not Parmesan)
Marinara sauce (see recipe below)
Thinly slice the eggplants. You can keep the skin on if you like them that way. Most Italians keep the skin. I don’t like it, so I peel it off first. It’s up to you. Make sure to generously salt both sides of the eggplant and place it between paper towels to remove excess water. You should leave this about an hour at least. Some people leave it for up to three hours. Removing the water will make your eggplant parm less soggy. The eggplant itself will be crispier, too.
Heat about an inch of olive oil in a frying pan. When the oil is nice and hot, fry those slices of eggplant. After they become lightly browned on both sides, place them on a dish with paper towels to remove excess oil. Continue to fry until all the eggplant is done.
Sprinkle some marinara sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Add a layer of fried plant on top of that sauce. Next, add pieces of mozzarella and a layer of Parmigiano cheese. Keep making those layers in that order until you hit the top of the baking dish. Be generous with the Parmigiano on the top layer, so it makes a sort of crust on top. It also looks more delectable.
Finally, put it in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F. (You know your oven; if it gets too hot, you might opt for 350 instead of 375). You want everything to blend together nicely and for the cheese to melt. I cover it with aluminum foil initially. About halfway through cooking, I take off the aluminum. The reason is I don’t want the cheese to get burned, just bubbly and browned. It usually needs to cook between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the size of your baking dish and oven. I was using an Italian oven in Italy when I made the one in the photo. It took about 50 minutes at 150 C.
Many Italians like to make la parmigiana a day ahead because it usually tastes better after a day. In that case, you can just heat it the next day, and you might take it out of the oven a bit earlier the first time around.
Recipe for Marinara Sauce
Tomatoes (chopped, about 2 to 3 lbs., preferably from your garden – or Nonno’s)
Olive oil (about a tablespoon)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Fresh basil (a handful, preferably from your garden – or Nonno’s)
Salt (1 to 2 tsp., depending on how many tomatoes you are using)
Americans often include onions in their marinara sauce. Italians do not. In fact, they don’t even always keep the garlic in the sauce until the end. This is the Italian version. Saute smashed garlic (not minced) in a thin layer of olive oil in a saucepan. Remove the browned garlic. Then, add the chopped tomatoes and the juice that spilled out onto the cutting board. I don’t worry so much about the seeds because I use a mesh sieve to strain the sauce when I’m done cooking.
Next, add the salt to the tomatoes. If you’d like, you can add a little more olive oil for flavor, too. Then, bring the tomatoes in their juices to a boil. Lower the flame, so that the sauce simmers and thickens. Stir frequently. When the sauce is about 10 minutes from being done, add the basil.
Finally, pass the sauce through a sieve. I use the bottom of my wooden spoon push it through. Then, I toss the seeds and skins. Your sauce is ready. You can keep it in a jar in the fridge for a day or two. Or you can just put it to work immediately on top of gnocchi, pasta, or in this case, in eggplant parmigiana.