My aunt Laura, my mother's sister, was with us for most of our holiday in Italy. This was a good thing for several reasons, not the least of which was the guarantee of good meals every single day. I don't say this to knock my mother, mind you. She, too, freely admits that with Laura around, the level of dining in our house rises several notches at least.
Laura made us juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina and insalata di riso (cold rice salad) and the very best roasted vegetables I've ever had (more on those in another post soon). We had four different kinds of ricotta and really delicious bread and peeled almonds for breakfast, and she taught me to stir an egg into Hugo's evening pastina and made meatballs that he would have happily eaten every day for the rest of his life.
Laura also proved the usefulness of a ridged grill pan, which I now am coveting and need to add to my arsenal right away. Laura used it for grilling meat, of course, but what really opened my eyes were the vegetables she grilled with it. Thick slices of parboiled potatoes, for example, to dress with olive oil and herbs like dried oregano, or long strips of zucchini and eggplant.
And best of all was the salad she made with the grilled vegetables. After the grilled vegetables (eggplant and zucchini sliced lengthwise, then grilled on the hot pan with no oil on both sides) cooled, she cut them into thickish strips and put them in a salad bowl. She added two garlic cloves, slightly crushed (not entirely smashed - the aim is the perfume the salad without making anyone eat raw garlic), a good amount of salt and a healthy glug of peppery olive oil.
You know how raw eggplant soaks up olive oil quickly and in cooking can turn sodden and greasy? Well, if you grill the eggplant first and then dress it, the olive oil can't penetrate it anymore. It simply coats the eggplant pieces and leaves them still delightfully chewy and toothsome.
The salad is perfect summer fare - easy to make ahead of time, best at room temperature, hearty and cooling at once. It goes very well with grilled sausages, but also with a cool ball of mozzarella leaking milky fluid alongside.
Once I've got a grill pan in my possession, I'll be making this all summer long.