Learn to lunch in trattoria style

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Today we continue our three-week trip to escape the winter weather in the Miss-Lou. Last week we had dinner in Paris and today we are having lunch in Rome, Italy. After a busy morning of touring, it is time for lunch. Still exclaiming over the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, we find a small trattoria, or Italian caf\u00E9, to relax in. We will follow the Italian tradition of a large noon meal, an afternoon nap and then a lighter evening meal.

Italians are known for their love of pasta. It is served as its own course in the Italian meal, not as a side dish as we Americans eat it. Our lunch begins with a pasta dish garnished with cubed eggplant. Don’t leave out the anchovies, as even avowed anchovy haters will love this recipe; and if you don’t tell, no one will know your secret ingredient.

Eggplant Fettuccini Neapolitan

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3 medium eggplants

Coarse salt

1 cup flour

1 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup olive oil

Cooked pasta

Sauce ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil

3 anchovies, drained, rinsed, dried and minced

1/2 cup minced parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel eggplant and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with salt and place in a large colander over a bowl. Allow to drain for 1/2 hour; then rinse with cold water and pat dry. Place both oils in a large skillet and heat. Toss the eggplant with the flour. Fry in the oil until golden brown. Drain well on paper towels and set aside.

Prepare your pasta. I like to use fettuccine with this recipe, but you can use your own favorite type. When your pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it well and toss with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. Cover the pasta and set aside. I usually place mine in a large pasta serving dish and set in an oven that has been heated to 250 degrees and then been turned off.

To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies, wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook this mixture for two minutes. Scatter the cooked eggplant cubes on the pasta and top with the sauce. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

For our main course the waiter suggests we try the veal pie. Baked very much like a quiche but without eggs, this veal and spinach dish is unexpectedly light.


Veal Pie

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 pounds fresh spinach, cooked, drained and squeezed

or two 10-ounce packages frozen spinach

3/4 pound boneless veal, pounded thin

1/2 pound prosciutto or thinly sliced ham

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a 10-inch cake pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

First be sure, whichever spinach you use, fresh or frozen, that all the water is squeezed out of it; then chop the spinach well. Next saute the spinach in the butter until the butter is absorbed. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and mix well. Remove pan from the heat.

Arrange half the veal in the bottom of the buttered pan and cover with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.

Layer 1/3 of the prosciutto or ham, then 1/3 of the spinach mixture. Then add another layer of prosciutto or ham and another of spinach. Arrange the rest of the veal over the spinach layer and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Cover with remaining prosciutto/ham and top with the rest of the spinach. Press down with your hand.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, lemon juice and the oil. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 6 minutes and remove from pan to serving platter. Cut into wedges to serve. Accompanying our veal are salads of fresh mixed greens lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and baskets of Italian bread.

This bread can be made quickly. With only a tablespoon of sugar and margarine, it can be eaten by almost everyone.


Italian Bread

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

2 packages yeast

1 tablespoon margarine

1 3/4 cups very warm water

Corn meal

Olive oil

1 egg white

1 tablespoon cold water

In the work bowl of a food processor, mix 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt and undissolved yeast. Add margarine

Gradually add water to dry ingredients and process about 30 seconds. Add 3/4 cup flour. Process for 30 seconds. Add enough flour to make a stiff dough. Pulse until dough is mixed. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and knead slightly until smooth and elastic. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and then a towel. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Roll each half into an oblong 15 by 10 inches. Beginning at the wide side, roll up tightly. Pinch the seam to seal. Spray your baking sheets with a nonstick vegetable spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place dough on the baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and at this point you can refrigerate it from 2 to 24 hours.

When you are ready to bake your loaves, remove them from the refrigerator and carefully uncover. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts on the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Place the baking sheets in the oven for 20 minutes. Whisk together the egg white with the tablespoon cold water. Remove the loaves from the oven and brush the tops of each loaf with the egg white wash and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown.

To top off our meal are cups of rich, dark Italian coffee and a light dessert. The Italians often serve fruit and cheese to end their meals. This dessert of stuffed poached pears is the perfect combination of the two.


Poached Pears with Ricotta

8 pears

4 cups dry white wine

2 tablespoons sugar

Filling ingredients

8 tablespoons ricotta cheese

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons brandy

Blend all the filling ingredients together, cover and place in the refrigerator. Wash and peel the pears, then place in a saucepan. Add the wine and sugar. Then add enough cold water to just cover the pears. Cover your pot with a lid and cook the pears until they are cooked but still firm, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears and set aside to cool. Over medium heat continue cooking the wine syrup until it reduces to about 2 cups.

Sauce ingredients

8 egg yolks

4 tablespoons sugar

Reduced wine mixture

In the top of a double boiler stir together the egg yolks and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add reduced wine mixture and mix well. Over boiling water stir constantly until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon. Do not let the sauce mixture boil.

Cut the cooled pears in half and remove the cores. Spoon the filling into the cavity. Pour sauce onto serving plate and place a pear half on each plate. Garnish with a sprig of mint.