Saturday, June 26, 2010

Marcus of Umbria Giveaway and Minted Eggplant

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How many people dream of chucking it all – the deadlines, the battles with the boss, the toxic office environment – and moving to Italy to live la dolce vita?  Lots of people fantasize about it but not many follow through on the dream.

Enter Justine van der Leun, a young American woman living in New York City, who did just that.  She left her job at a well-known lifestyle magazine to move to a small village in Italy, where an abandoned English pointer stole her heart even more than the Italian gardener whose family she lived with.

In her recently released book, “Marcus of Umbria – What an Italian Dog Taught An American Girl About Love,” Justine writes with humor and poignant honesty about her life in Collelungo, a village of 200 people in Umbria, a region called “the green heart of Italy.” Anyone who has ever known or lived with an Italian family in a small town will immediately identify with the cultural differences as Justine unsuccessfully tries to adapt to her newly-adopted family and boyfriend.

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It’s a tale filled with love, with sadness, with traditions that have played out for generations – traditions such as wild boar hunting, sparrow-shooting, horse-wrangling, and pig-butchering among other things.  But more importantly than learning these traditions was the knowledge Justine gained about herself during her year in la bell’Italia.

Maybe I loved the book so much because it reminded me of my own hiatus from the daily stresses of being a journalist in New York City and my escape to Italy for a year.  But “Marcus of Umbria” is a real page turner and makes a perfect summer read for anybody. Maybe even you. The publisher has agreed to send one copy of the book to a reader of this blog. All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this post, no later than 9 pm. EDT Monday June 28, telling me where you would move to if you could live in Italy for a year. Or anywhere in the world actually, that you would love to call home for a year-long break. The winner will be picked at random. Want even more of a chance to win? Just connect with me on Facebook and/or Twitter to increase your odds by leaving a comment there too.

“Marcus of Umbria” doesn’t contain any recipes per se, although there are references to food sprinkled throughout the book. Justine offered to write about one such recipe for Ciao Chow Linda that she ate during her year in Collelungo – minted eggplant.

Below is a guest post written by Justine van der Leun. All photos here are also taken by her.

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“During my year in the Umbrian countryside, I spent my days with the Crucianis, a farming family. They were proudly simple people and they grew, raised, or hunted everything they ate. The Crucianis weren’t precious about their meals: Preparing and eating food was as natural to them as breathing.

From them, I learned how to balance a nearly religious ardor for fresh, local ingredients with a casual approach to meals. But above all, I learned how to prepare and serve food the Italian way, which is, of course, with wild, nearly-aggressive generosity (hence their world-famous tendency to shout “Mangia! Mangia!”). In other words, the Italian way to serve food is to serve it with love. As my then-boyfriend Emanuele (the middle Cruciani child) once said, “Here you eat every day love, not only food.”

The woman responsible for my Umbrian meals was Emanuele’s mother, Serenella—a brash, no-nonsense, utterly tenderhearted woman who fed me everything she could from the first time I stepped in her kitchen until the day I left. Serenella could whip up from scratch a five-course meal for a family of eight in under 20 minutes, and she did, twice a day. She didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Serenella made vegetable dishes—from sautéed fresh chicory to field asparagus—mainly for me, as her male-dominated household really just wanted their pork and pasta. This eggplant dish was a departure from her normal repertoire, a light addition to a spring lunch. I was immediately taken by the nearly caramelized exterior of the eggplant, the balance of salt and garlic, and the fresh, fragrant mint. I liked that it could be part of a big spread or a standalone dish with some crusty bread and soft cheese. Lucky for me, it’s easy to throw together. Now when I make it, I always think of the Crucianis, and especially of Serenella. And so, without fail, I make it with love. And it’s always buonissimo.”  - Justine

Minted Eggplant

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 --Wash the eggplant and slice into rounds a quarter-inch thick.

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--If you aren’t sure as to the eggplant’s freshness, place slices in a colander, sprinkling with salt, and tossing to coat evenly.

--Let sit over sink or bowl for an hour.

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--Coax out any extra moisture by patting with paper towels or kitchen cloth, then rinse in cold water and pat dry again.

--Put olive oil in a pan (non-stick is best; if you don’t have a non-stick pan, you’ll just have to use extra oil) and heat over medium heat for a few minutes.

--Add the eggplant slices. Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to cook the eggplant in batches. Give the slices plenty of room.

image --While the eggplant is cooking, wash and chop the mint. I love mint so I use loads of it, but you can cater the amount to your taste.

image --Make sure the eggplant gets really golden brown—I think it’s most delicious when it’s slightly caramelized. Make sure as well that the eggplant doesn’t get too dry as it cooks; sprinkle with oil as you see fit.

--When the batch is done, set it on a paper towel to drain.

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--Each time you put a new batch of eggplant in the pan, make sure to film the bottom of the skillet with more olive oil.

--After the eggplant is all cooked and is set on its paper towels, add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté the finely chopped garlic on medium heat until golden brown.

image --Place eggplant slices on a pretty platter and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Then sprinkle on the garlic and top with the chopped fresh mint. I place lemon quarters on the platter, more for color than for taste.

--Serve. Preferably with a light, dry, summery white wine.

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Minted Eggplant

Printable Recipe Here

1 large eggplant or 2-3 small eggplants

Olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Handful of fresh mint leaves

Salt and pepper

--Wash the eggplant and slice into rounds a quarter-inch thick.

--If you aren’t sure as to the eggplant’s freshness, place slices in a colander, sprinkling with salt, and tossing to coat evenly.

--Let sit over sink or bowl for an hour.

--Coax out any extra moisture by patting with paper towels or kitchen cloth, then rinse in cold water and pat dry again.

--Put olive oil in a pan (non-stick is best; if you don’t have a non-stick pan, you’ll just have to use extra oil) and heat over medium heat for a few minutes.

--Add the eggplant slices. Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to cook the eggplant in batches. Give the slices plenty of room.

--While the eggplant is cooking, wash and chop the mint. I love mint so I use loads of it, but you can cater the amount to your taste.

--Make sure the eggplant gets really golden brown—I think it’s most delicious when it’s slightly caramelized. Make sure as well that the eggplant doesn’t get too dry as it cooks; sprinkle with oil as you see fit.

--When the batch is done, set it on a paper towel to drain.

--Each time you put a new batch of eggplant in the pan, make sure to film the bottom of the skillet with more olive oil.

--After the eggplant is all cooked and is set on its paper towels, add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté the finely chopped garlic on medium heat until golden brown.

--Place eggplant slices on a pretty platter and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Then sprinkle on the garlic and top with the chopped fresh mint. I place lemon quarters on the platter, more for color than for taste.

--Serve. Preferably with a light, dry, summery white wine.

 

37 comments:

Stacey Snacks said...

I never think to pair mint w/ eggplant.
I am grilling zucchini today and adding mint, and I will try it with the melanzane too!
I love the sound of this book.....I can't wait to read it!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That is a lovely dish! Nice giveaway.

cheers,

Rosa

Julie said...

Maybe this dish will get my partner to come around to eggplant. I'm starting to wonder if there's anything mint doesn't improve. Now that I've stopped overwatering my plant, it's growing like the weed it is!

Also: Tuscany. It makes my heart hurt to think about it. ....someday.

Joanne said...

Well if I ever stop blogging without warning, you'll know that I probably hightailed it to Italy. What an awesome read!

Even better is the eggplant. I swear I crave the stuff at least once a week! Looks so good.

Linda said...

Linda the eggplant looks wonderful...I have not had my breakfast yet and I could eat that whole plate full!
The book sounds wonderful!
L~xo

Jeanne said...

I've never had mint with eggplant before, but it sounds wonderful! I would definitely love to escape to Italy for a year. I'm sure I would enjoy visiting any region of Italy!

elra said...

Great giveaway Linda. I am drooling over that eggplant. Love the mint addition.

Susi said...

I don't care much for eggplant but this dish looks wonderful and light for a summer meal.
Also the book sounds like a wonderful read and if could hightail it for a year I would either go back to Germany or would love to spend a year in Rome

janie said...

I love eggplant and was thinking about making something with it this weekend-thanks! I think I'd like to be in Acqui Terme for a year-fell in love with Piemonte on our recent visit.

Mary Ann said...

I love eggplant and will give this recipe a try. Would love to win the book.

Mimi said...

Fantastic, I can't wait for eggplant to get ripe. I think I could park myself in Siena for a year.
Mimi

Niveditha said...

Thanks for the giveaway....The book sounds sure fun and I would definitely love to have it...

I always want to go to Florence, Italy if I ever get a chance!!!

ramvinayak_81@rediffmail.com

Niveditha said...

I follow you on Facebook too!!!

ramvinayak_81@rediffmail.com

Sylvia said...

I love eggplant and the dish looks delicious

daniela said...

linda è sempre bello ed interessante leggere i tuoi post! e questa ricetta con le melanzane mi piace moltissimo. Ottima idea
baci e buona serata
Dani

Daniela said...

Ottima questa ricetta con le melanzane, la menta in questo caso è l'ingrediente segreto.
Buona domenica Daniela.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Take me away to Florence and let me live like the locals! Thats my dream... In the meantime, the book sounds wonderful and I could eat eggplant everyday! Yumm! That was so cool that you lived in Italy for a year, why don't you put that in book form?

Marcellina said...

I too, never thought to pair eggplant with mint! My eggplants in the garden should be ready very soon so this is a must try! Camagna, a little town in Piedmont, where my husband's family has a house is one choice. Or not far along in the town where my Dad came from Piacenza in Emiglia Romania. Or then again for a complete contrast, Reggio Calabria, where my mum came from. Ohhh, too many choices! Let's just go to Italy for a year. That would be great!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This sounds like a delightful book!

I bought two eggplants yesterday to make caponata but now I am tempted by this recipe as I have mint growing in my backyard.

My husband and I are so tempted to live in Italy for a year when he retires as the Italian Consulate told him it is the only way he can re-gain his Italian citizenship that he had to give up when he became a naturalized American citizen -- he'd have duo citizenship that way.
I think he'd like live in, or near, the town in Calabria where he was born.

Claudia said...

You know I'm buying this book whether or not I win! What an adventure. And I would so love to hear your story. I'm a story-fiend anyway. I have eggplant in the yard and a mint bush. So this will be made when the eggplants come in! It's too tempting to wave away. It begs to be made. Where in Italy or anywhere would I live? Oh man! Like that's an easy question! When I was writing CIAO CINDERELLA set in Bologna - definitely Bologna. Then it was Orvietto and then Puglia so one can say I am flexible!

Jude said...

I just had my mother's Stuffed Pepper with eggplant for dinner!

I'd be so thrilled to ever finally live in Italy for an entire year that almost anywhere would be fine with me. I should choose Avellino to be near my relatives, but I think in the end, I'd go for Venice.

The book sounds great, and I'm certainly adding it to my to-read list.
Jude
dolcecapecod dot blogspot. com

momgateway said...

I've seen gorgeous pictures of Tuscany and excellent reviews about it's cuisine... I'd love to spend a year there...

casalba said...

Loved every bit of this: the book's subtitle (total dog lover, me), the unusual recipe and the kitchen table. Guess I'm going to have to get that book because I'm wondering what happened to the boyfriend and, more importantly, the dog.

The Sabbatical Chef said...

I've been to Italy only one time... I fell in love with Tuscany. But, given the chance, I would spend my year in Provence, tucked away in a little "mas" with lavender, thyme, rosemary, and sunflowers growing all around me. I would sit out on my little patio, drinking it (and rosé!) all in and blogging away. Marcus of Umbria looks like a great summer read.
J'adore l'aubergine aussi!

Linda said...

Of course, I'd live to try living in Venice. After that, Sienna and maybe the Parma region. I don't know much about Italy but would love to learn.

Snitz said...

My family is actually from Italy - so naturally, I'd move back there to be with them in a small village called Mortola located in Liguria. I'm dying to read this book!

Jen_from_NJ said...

I have never been to Italy but want to go more than anything. I would love to escape the rat race for a year and experience a different culture - oh, and the food - I may never come back!

The minted eggplant sounds delicious.

Barbara GF said...

What a glorious repast, Linda. A taste of summer, for sure; the roasted eggplant and the burst of mint is a perfect combination. And that giveaway! My heart, and roots, belong to the south, but if I could live in Italy for one year, I would go to Central Italy, to Tuscany, to drink the wine and savor art and life.

Peter M said...

Mint and eggplant are fab together and I just had the two in a sandwich today.

The book sounds like a nice escape for those not going to Europe. Jump into the book and let your mind wander...

Susan Van Allen said...

A wonderful book AND a wonderful recipe--all great for summer--Grazie!

Susan Van Allen said...

WONDERFUL RECIPE AND BOOK--A great start to the summer--Grazie!

foodcreate said...

Love this Awesome dish lovely giveaway..thank you for sharing your recipe..

Anne said...

This dish with eggplant and mint looks delicious! The book sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I've never been to Italy and going there is at the top of my wish list. I would love to spend time experincing the food and culture of Umbria, Tuscany, and Liguria. Thanks for the great giveaway.

amberenson@juno.com

Bridgett said...

I would happily chuck it all and live abroad but since my hubby came from london, he isn't much for chucking it all! Great idea using the mint. I love eggplant and would enjoy giving this recipe a go. What a cool book!

A SPICY PERSPECTIVE said...

That is one gorgeous dish! The mint sounds like a nice addition!

The Food Hunter said...

minted eggplant sounds delicious!

Anonymous said...

thanks for this excellent post and suggestion....awesome dish and book...especially the book...i recommend it without reservation...