When I dined at Osteria Salina in Bridgehampton, the Sicilian dishes brought back memories of two wonderful trips I made over the years to this region of Italy.
The memorable pasta alla Norma, a dish made with penne, tomatoes and ricotta salata I had in Palermo was documented in my cook book, Savoring the Hamptons: Discovering the Food and Wine of Long Island’s East End. At the restaurant, the dish is transformed to mezzo rigatoni alla Siciliana with mozzarella instead of ricotta salata and was equally delicious. Osteria Salina’s caponata is simply an extraordinary version of this popular eggplant, celery, tomato and caper appetizer; and a succulent breaded veal chop with a robust topping of tomatoes, red onion and arugula was special indeed. The breading, like many house-made special ingredients at Osteria Salina, is made from crunchy peasant bread, cubed in two different sizes, then toasted and separately grated in a food processor, sautéed in a bit of oil, seasoned with sea salt and combined for texture and extra crunch when used to coat. Note—gluten free bread can be used.
Cinzia Gaglio is the chef and owner, along with her husband Timothy, of Osteria Salina. Cinzia, who was born in New York City to Italian parents, was one year old when she first visited her family’s home outside of Rome. She continued to do so every summer. The summers were not only memorable but also instructive. Her grandparents shaped her palate. She learned from childhood memories of food and folklore, about differences in seeds, their growing and the value of ingredients, grapes for wine, etc.—her culinary education was rooted in Italy.
Both Cinzia and Timothy grew up in family restaurant businesses, here in the States. They own a house in Sicily, just outside of Palermo, where Tim’s family is from; this is one of the reasons they’ve flagged Sicily as their chief inspiration for the menu at Osteria Salina.
This classic Italian appetizer can be prepared up to two days ahead. Refrigerate covered in a suitable container. Serve with grilled crostini.
Yields 3 cups
1 farm fresh eggplant, about 1 pound, peeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 stalk celery, rinse and patted dry
1 cup cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
1 large whole clove garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 tablespoons Gaeta olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons basil ribbons (stack basil leaves, roll and slice crosswise)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
1. Rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towel. Cut eggplant into 3/4 inch thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 4 strips, than cut each strip into 3/4 inch cubes. Transfer eggplant to a bowl and add 2 tablespoons olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and toss to mix. Line a sheet pan with Silpat or parchment paper, then place the cubes of eggplant, etc. Place in pre-heated oven and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes until eggplant is softened with crisp edges. When done transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. Slice celery stalks lengthwise, than crosswise into 1/8-inch slices. Place in a mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Transfer to the same sheet pan that the eggplant cooked in and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until tender and a bit crisp.
3. Meanwhile, place remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the whole garlic and sauté until garlic is golden in color. Discard garlic and add cherry tomatoes to pan. Sauté tomatoes, stirring occasionally for about 3 1/2 to 4 minutes until softened but holding their shape. Set aside to cool.
4. Place 3 tablespoons vinegar in a small bowl and add golden raisins to reconstitute in the vinegar. Add sugar and stir to mix. Add the celery, tomatoes and vinegar mixture to eggplant and toss gently to mix. Then add capers, olives and basil and gently toss to thoroughly combine.
MEZZI RIGATONI ALLA SICILIANA
Pasta with eggplant, tomatoes and mozzarella. When working with farm fresh Italian eggplants seeds are minimal thus avoiding having to layer with salt to press out the seeds.
Serves 4 to 6
2 medium-sized eggplants, preferably Italian eggplants, about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds
1/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes
1 cup diced fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup basil ribbons, (leaves stacked, rolled and cut crosswise)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped oil cured olives
1. Trim stem ends of eggplant and rub cut surfaces against each other to draw out any indigestible juices. Peel and halve eggplants lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1 inch thick slices. Cut slices into 1-inch thick cubes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to a 12-inch skillet and place over medium heat. Place one cube eggplant in the pan to test for readiness. When it sizzles add remaining eggplant and toss until cubes are coated with oil, being careful not to overcrowd pan and cook until cubes are golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Add remaining oil to the skillet the eggplant cooked in over medium heat, put in the onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, add the garlic and the pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add tomatoes, stir to mix and cook the sauce for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cooked eggplant and stir to mix. Season the mixture with salt to taste and simmer for 3 minutes longer. Cover and keep warm at a low simmer.
3. While the sauce is cooking fill a large 5 to 6 quart saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling. When water is at a full rolling boil, add the rigatoni and cook for 9 to 11 minutes or until al dente. (I always like to add a few tablespoons cooking water to the sauce before draining if it needs it). Drain the pasta and add to the sauce with the mozzarella, basil and olives. Toss to thoroughly mix and serve at once.