Let’s continue on my “tour” (daydream, really) of the province of Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Let’s take a “boat” from the island of Capri—where we found the insalata caprese—to the Sorrentine Peninsula, which is known for the delicious beverage limoncello.
My friend went to Italy and brought back real limoncello straight from the city of Sorrento, and I fell in love with it immediately. The liquor has an intense lemon flavor and is very sweet. We drank the yummy beverage on the rocks as an after-dinner drink all summer long. The small bottle lasted months because we would only drink it in small doses—we couldn’t stand the thought of running out.
I set out on a mission to find a Neapolitan dish that would complement an after-dinner glass of limoncello and found that baked eggplant worked beautifully. Let me rephrase that: The taste perfectly complemented the limoncello that followed, but the appearance was not so beautiful. So if you try the recipe, don’t be turned off by the way it looks. It will be delicious! I suggest using Japanese eggplant which tends to be more flavorful. The slow roasting gives the eggplant an incredible texture; it just melts in your mouth. And the saltiness of the dish is balanced out by the sweet drink that follows.
Neapolitan Baked Eggplant
2 medium eggplants
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. minced capers
4 oz. black olives
1 bunch parsley
2 oz. bread, crusts cut off
1 Tbsp. soy milk
2-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, sliced
Oregano, to taste
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Halve the eggplants, score them diagonally, salt them, and let them sit for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 360ºF.
Soak the bread in the soy milk.
Wash and pat dry the eggplant halves and put them in an oven-proof dish.
Blend the garlic, capers, parsley, olives, and bread until they become a fairly smooth paste. Add olive oil, as needed. Spread the paste over the eggplant halves, then layer them with the tomato. Season with pepper and oregano, to taste, and bake until done, about an hour.
Makes 4 servings
If you can’t find limoncello at a store near you, try making your own. After much trial and error, I came up with this recipe that is close to the bottle from Italy. It’s easy to make, but it definitely takes some time and patience. Trust me—it will be worth it.
15 lemons, washed and zested
2 -750 ml vodka, 100 proof
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
In a large glass jar, add one bottle of vodka and the lemon zest. Cover and store in a cool, dark space for 10 days. If you have the patience, letting it sit for up to 40 days will impart a stronger flavor.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thickened. Cool.
Once the syrup is cool, add the vodka-lemon mixture. Stir in the other bottle of vodka and store for another 10 or more days.
When the limoncello is ready, strain and store in the freezer. It is best icy cold.
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