The best vacations need some continuation, something to take away;
something to unpack when the missing of those good days is heavy;
something to connect the rhythm and pace of the trip with the patterns and predictability of home;
something more than a souvenir.
The best vacations need to come home.
Last weekend, my parents left Perugia. The day before their flight, my dad made a request. He wanted to learn how to cook pasta ‘ncasciata. This was his favorite meal in Italy, and he wanted it to be his “take-away.”
Pasta ‘ncasciata is a Sicilian specialty given to me by my friend Giulia. Her family is from the south where eggplants are reportedly the most delicious eggplants in the country. The name “’ncasciata” is a Sicilian word that may translate to either “cheese” or “pan.” (There is some disagreement among Sicilians.) Guilia says that both translations make sense since the pasta is cooked with cheese and baked in a pan.
So on the evening of my parents’ last day, we shopped, chopped, fried, simmered and layered until we had made a beautiful pan of pasta.
1 tablespoon of butter for greasing the pan
250 grams (8 ½ ounces) of pasta (macaroni or short penne)
3 tablespoons olive oil plus 2/3 cup
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/3 diced onion
150 grams (5 ½ ounces) of sausage (remove casing)
150 grams (5 ½ ounces) ground veal
125 grams (4 ½ ounces) of peas, fresh or frozen
½ cup of red wine
500 grams (18 ounces) of purred tomato
125 grams (4 ½ ounces) of fresh ricotta
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
50 grams (2 ounces) of diced or grated provolone
10 basil leaves
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Grease an oven-proof pan with the butter
2. Slice the eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt. Then let it sit in a colander for 20 minutes so it can release its bitter juices.
3. Sauté the garlic and onion in three tablespoons of olive oil until onions are translucent.
4. Add the sausage and ground veal and cook. Then add peas. Then wine. Cook until the wine reduces (about five minutes). Then add the tomato puree. Simmer slowly for 15-20 minutes.
5. In the meantime, rinse the slices of eggplant and pat dry with a paper towel. Then fry them in 2/3 cup of olive oil on medium high heat until golden brown. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
6. Cook the pasta for half the time it calls for. (It will continue cooking later in the oven.) Drain the pasta. Add it to the tomato sauce. Add ricotta and mix well. Tear the basil into pieces and stir in.
7. Layer: Begin with a third of the pasta and tomato sauce. Cover with half the eggplants. Add half the provolone and one of the sliced hard-boiled eggs. Then add a layer of everything one more time saving a third layer of pasta for the top. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.
8. Cook in a 350 degree oven for 1/2 hour or until hot, bubbly and slightly brown on top. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
. . . I just got an email from my dad. The trip home was long. They are tired. The transition isn’t easy. However, the first dinner they made after unpacking their bags was pasta ‘ncasciata.