Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily
For our last class we made three dishes: an eggplant involtini (slices of eggplant rolled up around pasta), polpette all’agrodolce ( meatballs in a sweet and sour sauce) and zucchini ripieni (zucchini halves filled with a ground meat mixture). We worked together as before, with Donatella giving us individual orders and not saying much else unless directly asked.
She had me brown the slices of eggplant in a dry pan without any oil. It worked great and I was excited since when fried eggplant soaks up so much oil. To finish the dish the cooked slices of eggplant are rolled around a rigatoni pasta to which just of touch of cooked tomato sauce has been added, then placed in a casserole dish with the seam side down, topped with parmesan and browned in the oven.
For the meatballs we mixed ground veal with bread crumbs, egg, parsley and a bit of milk to moisten the mixture, then rolled it into golf ball sized balls and coated them with flour. We then sautéed onion in oil to which we added the meatballs and cooked them until golden. To finish the dish a mixture of balsamic vinegar and sugar was added along with ground almonds.
Donatella has this amazing machine (she said it costs €900), that is a sort of super food processor that also makes granita (Italian ice) and gelato. She used it to grind the almonds for the meatball.
For the last dish we cut the zucchini into halves and boiled them until tender. When cool enough to handle we removed the middle and mixed it with chopped green olives, capers, ground meat, onion and a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce. We then stuffed the mixture back into the zucchini halves and placed them into a casserole dish, sprinkled them with bread crumbs and baked.
At the dinner table both Donatella’s son and her young American houseguest were there as well as someone she introduced as her partner, a pleasant man who talks a lot in rapid, Sicilian accented Italian. At first it was extremely difficult to understand what he was saying, like he was talking with marbles in his mouth. The more he talked the more I understood. It helped that he repeated every thought about five times.
He first talked about food and wine, and explained in great detail that if you cut up garlic and onion fine enough people who say they don’t like garlic will still like the dish even though it has garlic. Then he talked about drinking laws in various counties and the problems of teenagers who drink too much and drinking and driving.
He was very impressed with the car service that they have in London that for the same price as a taxi fare will return both you and your car to your home. The conversation was interesting and great listening practice, but my mind was really on getting home to see Don. After some group photos and an exchange of email address I walked back to corso Umberto for the last time.
A Chance Encounter with Maya
On the way back home I ran into Maya sitting at table outside a small bar, just 3 minutes from my house. I told her I would come back with Don. Maya is an outgoing, charismatic, happy Swiss German who makes friends with everyone she meets. She came to Taormina not knowing any Italian and in the two weeks she has been here she can say enough to have short little conversations with the various people that sit at the table next to her.
I watched several of these innocent interrogations. One Italian woman, native of Taormina, started out reluctantly answering Maya’s questions, became quickly charmed by her and within a few minutes was asking her questions about where she was from and her Italian studies. According to Maya she was a bit of a trouble maker as teenager and left home at fifteen with pink hair and a pierced nose after her father killed her pet rats in some argument they had over an ex-boyfriend. Now 22, she wears her dark hair in a short stylish bob and works at as a waitress during the ski season in St. Moritz, a high-end tourist area in Switzerland.
She travels the rest of the year and is thinking of opening a bar in some beach area where you don’t need much money to live, maybe Mexico or somewhere in Asia. She has great zest for storytelling and is an entertaining, if not inspiring, companion. She told me “You know, learning a language is really a great thing to do.” You think, Maya? I’ll have to remember that.
For links to all the posts in this series see the Taormina, Sicily page.