Back in 2009, while I was still pregnant with our youngest, we took a family trip to Italy--something of a babymoon.
That's pretty much the only picture of me in Italy, since even then, I was the only one who knew how to work my camera (even though I'm SO much better at photography now!). We were exploring Pompeii, and in the distance behind us is Mt. Vesuvius.
Since I was pregnant, I didn't get to enjoy the wines there. But man oh man, did I eat my way through that country!
My favorite meal was, without a doubt, at a little mom-n-pop trattoria in a narrow alley of Naples. I don't think I could find it again if I tried, alas. But I'll never forget it. The old couple who ran the tiny, 3 table restaurant didn't speak a word of English, but through our (etremely!) limited Italian and pantomime, we were able to order some of the handmade pasta dishes the wife made fresh every day. We didn't need the antipasti, too, we'd decided. Evidently something was lost in translation, or the husband and wife team decided that we were simply wrong in passing up the antipasti, because before we knew it, a parade of small plates started to come out of the kitchen.
Amazing cured meats, intensely delicious cheeses, and an entire garden of grilled vegetables came pouring out of the kitchen. The first plate, we were delighted--oh, I guess we'll have the antipasto after all, my dear. The second and third plates were relished. But they just...didn't...stop. Eventually we had to stop doing more than just taking the smallest sample, for fear that we'd have absolutely no room by the time the pasta came out. And oh, the pasta was worth waiting for. Everything you dream about when envisioning a trip to Italy. But the trattoria owners were clearly distressed that we hadn't eaten all of our antipasti. They thought something was wrong! I hope we were able to convey well enough that everything was absolutely AMAZING, we jut couldn't handle a meal so large. They certainly deserved to know that we savored every single bite, and ate far more than we would have typically, because it was so exceptionally delicious.
I can find lovely Italian meats and cheeses locally, but I've never attempted to re-create those wonderful grilled and marinated vegetables...until last week.
Slice eggplant into disks approximately 1cm thick. Brush with olive oil, or spray lightly with olive oil spray (that's what I did).
Grill for a few minutes on each side, until the eggplant is tender and cooked through. Would you believe this is the first time I've ever used a grill? Usually my husband handles grilling stuff, and I've never even attempted to turn a grill on. But I wanted to make these for friends who were coming over that evening for a Pi day (Pizza Pie in our wood-fired oven!) dinner, and Drew was at work. It was up to me. And it turned out to be pretty darn simple. So if I can do this, having never grilled anything before in my life, so can you.
Mix all the ingredients together (except the eggplant--duh) for the marinade. This kind of marinade doesn't go on before grilling; instead, the grilled eggplant is soaked in it.
Let the grilled eggplant sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes--but ideally for several hours. Even the day before. This resting/soaking time makes this a perfect make-ahead dish for company. I love doing away with as much last-minute prep as possible.
I set the grilled eggplant on an antipasti platter with sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, bread, and fresh basil.
I drizzled the leftover marinade over the cheese and tomatoes as well, rather than using plain olive oil for those classic Caprese salad elements. So, so, so very good. The eggplant made a damn good pizza topping later in the night, too.
I'm so glad I thought to re-capture that bit of our experience in Italy. I hope we make it back someday, but even if we don't, the experience continues to enrich my life, even five years later. Isn't that what the best vacations always do?