Melanzane sott’olio

1This is a post I wrote two years ago that I’m finally posting. But eggplant never goes out of style.

I first discovered this melanzane sott’olio (eggplant preserved in oil) when a few jars of it arrived for my boyfriend in Torino in one of the regular boxes of food sent from his mother down South.

It was love at first bite. I remember I ate the slices of eggplant on bread as an appetizer before dinner and also used bread to mop up the remaining olive oil.

R’s mother regularly jars a variety of her own food, and when she found out how much I liked the eggplant, she offered to teach me how to make it when I was in Matera on vacation.

The recipe is not difficult, but the eggplant is prepared in stages with long waits in between steps, so it ends up taking a couple a days to finish everything. But while you’re waiting, you just leave it out on the counter and can go do other things.

I’ll tell you now that once you’ve finished, you then have to wait one week for the eggplant to be ready to eat. (Before you can eat another kind of preserved eggplant I learned how to make, in which the eggplant is cut into strips, you have to wait one month.) But I don’t mind. I value deliberate processes that produce homemade staples, rather than buying everything from the store.

We started with about 2.5 kilos of medium-sized eggplant (about 5.5 pounds).

melanzane-001The first step is to wash all of the eggplant, cut off the stems, and peel them with a vegetable peeler. You may not like to waste the skin, but if you leave it on the end result is hard and bitter.

melanzane-002Slice the peeled eggplant into about quarter inch (slightly less than one centimeter) slices. We used the slicer in the picture, but a knife works fine too.

melanzane-003Place the slices in a big bowl of generously salted water.

melanzane-004Continue until all of the eggplant is sliced and in the bowl. Cover the eggplant with a large upside down pot lid and put something heavy on top to press the eggplant down (we use a pot with something else inside).

melanzane-005  melanzane-006Let sit for at least five hours. We did that in the morning and finished around noon. Then we let it sit for a few hours until the late afternoon after lunch and a nap :) So it sat for around six hours.

Back to work. Pour about 2/3 of a liter of white wine vinegar and 1/3 of a liter of water in a large pot. That’s about three cups of vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of water- it doesn’t have to be exact. Add (what seemed like) a couple tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil.

Drain a large handful of eggplant slices (that were soaking in the bowl) in a colander and put them in the pot. When the mixture comes back to a boil, wait one minute and then take them out with a slotted spoon.

melanzane-008*n.b. If you plan to eat the eggplant right away, you can cook them longer- about a minute and half, but no longer than two minutes, and the final result will be softer. If you are planning to make a lot and conserve the jars for longer, just cook them for thirty seconds after the re-boil and they will last longer.

Spread them in a single layer on a cotton towel in a big pan or large baking sheet. Use a cotton towel because it absorbs the liquid- otherwise the eggplant will be too watery.

melanzane-009Continue the process of boiling batches of eggplant and spreading them out on the towel. When you use up one towel, put another one on top and make another layer of eggplant. We ended up with three layers. Cover the top with a final towel (or paper towels) and let cool about an hour.

melanzane-010 Take glass jars and put a little extra virgin olive oil in the bottom. Start placing the slices in the jars, layering them as best you can without spaces in between and keeping the level flat. Pushing them down every so often with a wooden spoon helps.

melanzane-011  melanzane-012Add a few fresh parsley leaves at intervals. (n.b. The parsely is optional and can be left out. I didn’t notice any change of taste with the addition of parsley.)

melanzane-013When you fill the jars half way, add some more oil.

melanzane-014You can use your fingers, too, to really get in there and eliminate the air spaces between the slices. It won’t be perfect.

When the jars are full, cover with more oil.

melanzane-015Then take a long thin knife and slide it in the jars between the eggplant and the wall of the jar- press it inward to get rid of air pockets. You will see air bubbles appearing and rising up and then the liquid will be still. Do that all around the jar. It’s necessary to get rid of the air or the eggplant will go bad.

melanzane-016Keep filling jars this way, the number will depend on how much eggplant you started with and how large the jars are. We filled two large jars.

Leave the jars open and let them sit for a few hours. This will let them settle a little more. Then top with oil to completely cover, wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, let dry, and put on the lids (we let them sit overnight and put the lids on the next morning).

melanzane-017  melanzane-018Let them sit for at least a week and then they will be ready to eat.



I’ll end with a few notes about the process:

You don’t need to seal the jars with pressure or heat, and you don’t need to refrigerate the jars after opening. The oil is enough to preserve the eggplant.

-Only use a clean fork or other utensil in the jar to avoid contamination. After you eat some of the eggplant, push the remaining eggplant in the jar down with a clean fork or spoon until it is completely submerged in the remaining oil. It might be necessary to add more oil to cover them.

We used extra virgin olive oil to cover the eggplant in all of the steps of this recipe. In Italy, this type of oil is affordable. Your cost will go up in a place like the US where extra virgin olive oil is more expensive. You can use regular olive oil (instead of extra virgin) or seed oil (like sunflower) to save money. Just know that the taste will be different (R’s mom says it won’t be as good).

However, while a lot of oil is used in the recipe, it is not wasted. The oil comes out with the eggplant slices and is eaten along with it. If you add the eggplant to salad, the oil on the slices can be used to dress the salad. If you eat it with bread, the oil flavors the bread, or you can mop up the excess on your plate with bread. When you finish all the eggplant, the remaining oil in the jar can be used for anything you would normally use olive oil for.

As always, buon appetito!

Posted in Food, Matera, Slowing Down | 4 Comments

The Basilicata Landscape Never Fails to Impress

1Rivello, as seen from the road driving back to Matera from Maratea

Well I sure haven’t posted in awhile. I hope these pretty pictures from this summer in Basilicata will make up for it :) Basilicata, in southern Italy, is a very beautiful region. The flat countryside alternates with hills and mountains, and the ancient towns built on hilltops make for a striking landscape. If you look out from one of those towns, you can see the surrounding towns dotting the landscape in the distance at the tops of their own hills. Basilicata also has two coasts, on the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas in the Mediterranean. Warm water… gorgeous scenery… it’s quite a place.

2Maratea, on the Tyrrhenian (western) coast of Basilicata


Spiaggia Nera (Black Beach), one of the beaches of Maratea

4Sant’Ilario, a tiny hilltop town surrounded by characteristic countryside

5Classic Basilicata countryside, which is yellow and brown in the hot summer

5aLago di Monticchio (Monticchio Lake)

6A view of San Fele, one of the many many many small and ancient towns perched at the top of mountains/hills.

6aA view from near Carlo Levi’s house in Aliano.

6bDusk on one of the beaches in Maratea


The sea at Maratea, as seen from the road


Night falls on Aliano.

11Maratea twilight

Posted in Photography, Travel | 4 Comments

Everyone’s on Vacation


The photo says: We are on vacation from 8/14 to 8/18.

Happy Ferragosto! Ferragosto, August 15, (which is also the Catholic holiday of the Assumption) is a major summer holiday in Italy. EVERYTHING is more or less closed and Italians traditionally head for the sea.

In case you don’t know, August is traditional vacation time in Italy and many people are off for the whole month. If not the whole month, the people I’ve asked told me they at least have 2-3 weeks in August, depending on when their company closes. And Italy is on vacation again at Christmas time. Of course, people in the tourism business work all summer and take off at another time.

On August 15, however, cities look more like ghost towns with everything closed and many people gone off somewhere. I was in Naples one year on this day and it was very strange to see the empty streets.

In the space of a five or ten minute walk down a street in downtown Matera, I photographed these signs on store windows. Then I stopped, even though there were a lot more, because they were more or less the same.

Make sure to get your shopping done before store owners go on vacation!

8We are at the sea. We reopen on 8/17/15.

3Closed for vacation from 8/14 to 8/22

4The office will be closed for vacation from 8/10/15 to 8/21/15.

5Closed for vacation

6Closed for vacation from August 14-24

7Closed for vacation from 8/9 to 8/16


Closed for vacation. This pharmacy will reopen on August 17, 2015.


Closed for vacation from 8/5/15 to 8/16/15

11On the other hand, this place will be open. The sign says Open Saturday August 15.

Posted in Italian Life | 2 Comments

Another Stroll Through the Sassi of Matera

Here are a few photos from a walk around the Sassi of Matera, which is always an interesting experience.

I discovered that my point-and-shoot camera has a square photo function, so I was super excited to continue my square photo project that I started two years ago in the Sassi (you can see it here) but without carting around my professional equipment.

I love the square format. Before Instagram existed I used medium format film cameras which took square 6x6cm photographs, so that is what the square shape brings me back to.

squares-01 squares-02 squares-03 squares-04 squares-05 squares-06 squares-07 squares-08 squares-08a squares-09 squares-10 squares-11 squares-12 squares-13 squares-14 squares-15 squares-15a squares-16 squares-17

Posted in Matera, Photography, Travel | 6 Comments

Turin Epicurean Capital Event

EN: Turin Epicurean Capital, an event celebrating Piemonte and its culinary traditions and way of life, will open on Tuesday, July 21 at Collegio San Giuseppe. There will be round tables each morning and other events in the afternoons. I will participate with a photo exhibit that opens on Tuesday and which will last for three days. Please see this link for the complete calendar.

IT: Martedì il 21 luglio inizia Turin Epicurean Capital, un evento letterario a tema culinario organizzato per condividere con il mondo la cultura culinaria e lo stile di vita in Piemonte. Io parteciperò con una mostra fotografica che inizierà martedì pomeriggio al Collegio San Giuseppe e che durerà tre giorni. Vedete questo link per il calendario completo.

Turinepi15 progr Eng jpg TurinEpi15 progr ITA jpg



Posted in Torino | Leave a comment

On Shopping Small

I bought an iron the other day. I like to sew and make clothes, and the old iron I was using finally kicked the bucket.

The first place I thought to go for a new one was a gigantic store like Carrefour or MediaWorld, which sell everything. But I really didn’t want to patronize them if it wasn’t necessary. One thing that’s great about Torino is that it’s chock-full of small independent stores, and my neighborhood is full of them.

When I was riding my bike back from an errand that morning, I saw a small store selling small appliances (piccoli elettrodomestici) right on my street.

I went there and asked about the irons, telling the woman working in the store that I was looking for an iron that produced a lot of steam for pressing dry cotton fabric. She helped me understand the differences between the steam output in grams of the various models.

After I made a decision, she took the iron to the counter and opened the box and took the iron out. She explained all of the features to me, made sure the paperwork was in the box, and even plugged the iron into the wall outlet to make sure it worked!

I probably would not have gotten that kind of attention at a big box store, where you are lucky when you can chase down an employee. It was a nice experience and I was glad to give my money to her rather than to one of the big boxes.

Earlier that morning, I went into the shoe store on my street since my sandals are falling apart and I don’t know if they will make it through another summer.

I saw a pair I really liked in the window so I went in and tried them on, but the largest size they sold was too small. Many Italian shoe stores carry shoes up to size 40 (about a 9 or a 9 1/2 US size) but that doesn’t help me.

I had to wait for the person at the register to finish a transaction with a customer, and then he came over to help me. I asked to try on the sandal and he took it out of the box and unbuckled it. When I said it was too small, he said, “piccolino?“, and I thought it was funny how he added the diminutive -ino to the word “small” in reference to the shoe. (I had the same reaction in my sewing class when my teacher showed me how to hold the skirt I was making in order to sew the zipper on, and she said to place my manino on the back of the skirt [manino = mano (hand) + ino (small, cute, etc.]). It’s just something Italians say.

When I left the store, I decided I liked the personal attention salespeople give you in small stores like this. They usually know their products and can help you find something if you’re unsure of what to choose. For example, the woman told me about the steam output of the irons, and I know it’s not rocket science but I had no idea about that before. Another time I bought boots (go in January when everything is 50% off), which I wouldn’t have tried on because I didn’t see my size, but the saleslady knew they ran large and so I found a great pair and could stop shopping.

Since the customers are not handling the merchandise themselves and putting it back however they feel like it, the store is neater. The experience is also quicker and more precise. For example, there are a lot of small hardware stores in the city; I just walk up to the counter and ask for what I want and they produce it. I don’t have to wander around huge aisles looking for something specific.

I was a little afraid to shop in small stores in Italy when I first came here, mostly because I had to talk to people. It wasn’t only the language barrier. My shopping experience in the US was much more impersonal, and I had gotten used to browsing around for as long as I wanted without asking for what I wanted or having someone wait for me to make a decision.

It’s not just about personal comfort though. I like to patronize small business owners who are making a living with their local businesses. I can also develop relationships with the people in my neighborhood and contribute to the community. And small stores are often unique with their own personalities, whereas large chains are meant to be the same no matter where they are located.

I remember how sad I felt as a child when the corner pharmacy in my grandparents’ neighborhood, where my dad used to drink ice cream sodas when he was a kid, and where my cousins and I used to gather our change and buy candy, was torn down and a 7-11, a chain convenience store, was built.

I liked the sewing machine sales and repair shop I visited that morning when I first looked for an iron (they only had professional ones with boilers). There were old and new sewing machines throughout the room, some in various stages of repair. My great-grandmother always said to spend more on something of quality and it will last a lifetime. I’d like to add, and if it breaks, which will probably happen less often, have it repaired instead of throwing it away (causing more resources to be wasted and where it might end up in the ocean).

These experiences are certainly still possible in the US, though less so than in the past since many independent stores have gone out of business. And I see that in Italy, there are now many large shopping malls and big box stores which are full of customers.

I may have fallen into a little nostalgia with this post, but my practical point is that I have the opportunity to choose with my wallet, so to speak, and make choices to keep a little diversity alive.

Posted in Expat Life, Italian Life, Slowing Down | 4 Comments

New Blog for Photo Shoots


I’ve decided to start a new blog for my photo posts for my baby, children, family and wedding photography shoots, rather than continue to post those photos on Simply Italiana. I’ll only be posting those posts on my new blog, and I moved a copy of all the old photo shoot posts that I already published here to the new blog, but the original old posts are still here in the Simply Italiana archives. Readers of Simply Italiana who are interested in Italian life, food, and travel might not want to see photos of babies, for example, and vice versa, so I wanted to keep the two separate. You can visit my new photo shoot blog here:


Posted in Baby Photography, Battesimi - Baptism Photography, Dolce Attesa - Maternity Photography, Matrimoni - Wedding Photography, Prematrimoniale - Engagement Photography | Leave a comment

Finding Authenticity as a Foreigner in Italy

I’ve joined the Blogging Piemonte group after being invited by Diana of The Entire Pizza and I’ve already met a small group of friendly bloggers who live in the Torino area and write about their experiences with the region and its food and drink. We’ll write on a common topic every month and the first topic is “authenticity”. I’m looking forward to seeing how we approached this topic in different ways. Links to the group’s posts are at the bottom of the page. Follow along with the hashtag #BlogPiemonte.

Authenticity. The truth is, I struggled when I heard this topic. Authenticity seems like a popular word people are throwing around these days, but what is authenticity anyway? And what am I supposed to say, something profound about “real” Italian life? What seems obvious to me is the question, isn’t everything authentic just because it exists?

When I started thinking about the topic of authenticty, the first thing that came to mind was, how can I live an authentic life in Italy? When I first came to Italy, I thought that in order to have an authentic expeirence here, I had to try to be as Italian as possible.

I worked hard on that. I studied Italian and insisted on speaking Italian with everyone I could, even if they knew English. I only read Italian books and tried to make the best of my immersion experience to learn about Italian culture. I came to Italy for fun, not for a reason like work or a relationship, and so I did this because it really interested me and I enjoyed it. At the same time, I hoped I wouldn’t stick out in Italy like a sore foreign thumb.

During my first year in Italy when I was traveling in the south, I had a short conversation with a man at a water fountain and he asked me if I was from up north. Yes! I thought. The ultimate compliment… passing for a native.

I’m now living a regular life here. I speak the language, I have Italian friends, I work and go about my daily business, and I’ve adjusted my schedule to the Italian way of doing things.

I like learning what makes Italian people tick, and I’ve naturally adopted many Italian habits and customs myself, which I think is crucial in order to have a good experience living in a foreign country. My ways of thinking and seeing the world have changed, and I have a more open mind.

I’m even Italian-American; my blood is 7/8th red, green and white and I have an Italian passport to prove it.

Despite that, I’ll never be a “real” Italian. My accent, for example, has definitely improved since I first started learning the language, but it’s also definitely still there. And I still do strange things that raise Italian people’s eyebrows. More importantly, nothing replaces being born and raised here.

Even though I have changed a lot since coming here, I still do many things differently from the general Italian way of doing things, and that’s because I grew up and lived somewhere else.

People will never forget that I’m a foreigner, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

I eventually came to a new place where I relaxed and embraced my origins more. Instead of only speaking and reading in Italian, I now like to speak and read in English too and have a chance to not think so much about it. I used to try to only spend time with Italian people to soak up as much as I can, but now I like to meet people from America and different countries, and I like the familiar feeling of talking to another American with whom I have experiences in common.

I don’t have to try to be Italian, which I think would be un-authentic anway. My individuality is what’s authentic about me.

I’ve found a personal meeting place between adopting new habits and keeping old ones, between embracing new things and remembering where I came from. That’s an authentic life in Italy to me. Just being me.

It would be boring if we were all the same. That leads me to another question: what is authentic in Italy anyway? There are so many different kinds of people in the country.

For one, Italy has attracted foreigners for a long time. My story is nothing new. And there are currently a whole lot of us here. I’m sure many Italians would not agree with me, and others would, that authentic Italy is a reality that contains may kinds of people, including foreigners.

Italians themselves are diverse and famous for not being unified as a country but being loyal to their region, city, or soccer team.

Authenticity is difficult to define. I gave up chasing an authentic Italian life, but I found an authentic life in Italy.


Read up on what the others have to say about authenticity (check later in the day if they’re not up yet):

Eptrad: “That’s an Authentic Start!”

Turin Epicurean Capital: “Living Turin style”

Turin Mamma: “Why I Draw the Line at Using the Word “Authentic””

The Entire Pizza: “Forced to Live Authentically in Piemonte”

Wine & Truffles: “Authentic Living in the Alta Langa”

Living in the Langhe: “How to Become Authentically Piemontese in 5 Easy Steps”

Texas Mom in Torino: “Authenticity: The evolution of this Texas mom to an Italian mamma”

Simply Italiana: “Finding Authenticity as a Foreigner in Italy”

ItaliAnna: “Piemonte = Authenticity”

Bailey Alexander: “Save Yourself by Saving the Planet: the real benefits of growing a garden”

Posted in Expat Life | 11 Comments

A Memorable Account of Eating Pizza for the First Time

IMG_6289-2I read a good novel called Treno 8017 by Alessandro Perissinotto, a writer from Torino. The main character, Adelmo Baudino, has taken it upon himself to solve the murders of several Italian railroad workers. The story takes place between 1944 and 1946, mostly in Torino.

One passage in particular really impressed me and I wanted to share it with you. It is a memorable description of the character’s first encounter with pizza.

In the excerpt, Baudino has recently arrived in Naples to track down clues for his personal investigation. In order to pass the time before an appointment, he spends the day walking around the city, almost like a tourist, even though he feels uncomfortable with the idea of being a tourist while being surrounded by the people of Naples on the streets who were just trying to make a living and survive.

Baudino is from Torino, which has completely different gastronomical traditions than Naples, and Naples is famous for its pizza. In the ’40s, the diffusion of different cultural traditions was less widespread throughout Italy than it is today. In fact, Baudino didn’t know what a pizza was.

Perissinotto does a great job describing how Baudino felt when he saw and ate a pizza for the first time. I translated this myself, so pardon any rough spots.

…from Treno 8017 by Alessandro Perissinotto:

“… Lost in his new role as a tourist, Adelmo didn’t notice his stomach’s rumbling until the smell that was coming out of one of the shops in Via dei Tribunali whet his appetite. It was the smell of something baked, not bread but something similar, and the oven was very visible since the shop, underneath the sign “Fried Food”, was completely open to the street.

[In Naples dialect]: “Hey Mister, come eat a nice pizza, noon’s already long gone.”

Without knowing if he understood correctly, Adelmo took it as an invitation to enter and took a seat in the room that the waiter showed him.

There was marble on the walls, making it seem like a butcher shop, and even the tables were marble with a color somewhere between white and gray. Without laying down a tablecloth, the waiter set down silverware and a thick glass that was still dripping with rinse water.

[In Naples dialect]: “What do you want?”

Without speaking, Adelmo Baudino pointed to a nearby customer’s plate, where something steaming hot stood out, something that he, a person of few travels from Torino, wasn’t sure was the same thing that his old colleagues and the Southern kids who came to do their military service in his neck of the woods had told him about.

[In Naples dialect]: “Ah, you want a pizza! And to drink what do you want? A Mt. Vesuvius white wine?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Italy had been created, even for him. He toasted the gastronomical unification [of Italy] with cool white wine poured from the pitcher.

At the pizza’s arrival, he first heard the clatter of the plate set down hurriedly on the marble and then he smelled the fragrant steam that rose up to him from the dish. He looked around, unsure of how to handle the pizza, and he decided on a traditional approach: knife and fork. When the blade cut into the first slice, he understood that the pizza had two souls: a soft and juicy one in the middle, and a dry and crispy one around the edges. It had been described to him as a focaccia, but that was a very far approximation, and the taste confirmed it: it wasn’t like anything he had eaten before. It was hot and steaming, but the baking hadn’t subdued the flavors or dried out the freshness of the tomato or the softness of the mozzarella; the flavors were merged together, but distinct: the sweetness of the tomato, the light saltiness of the cheese and dough and the unmistakable scent of the basil.

He decided that it was nice to be a tourist.”

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Spaghetti with Zucchini Flowers

fiori-01When I came to Italy and started shopping at the outdoor markets, I saw many vegetables that I’d never eaten before. One of them was zucchini with the flowers attached. I didn’t even know that flowers were edible.

The first time I ate zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca), I was in the countryside near Perugia and my host prepared the flowers in a traditional way, stuffing them with cheese and anchovies and then breading and frying them. The second time I ate them they were made into frittelle (fritters) and again breaded and fried. They were very good each time, but very heavy.

Last week I went produce shopping and I saw mini light colored zucchini with beautiful fresh flowers attached. I love an opportunity to try something new, so I bought ten.


When I got home I went online and looked for zucchini flower recipes. I wanted something lighter so I opted not to stuff or bread them with anything. I found a few recipes for pasta with zucchini flowers and merged the parts I liked the best about them and came up with this dish.

I used whole grain spaghetti, zucchini flowers (I saved the zucchini for later), shallots (instead of onion), peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes), fresh cherry tomatoes, white wine, basil, olive oil, and salt.

fiori-03  fiori-04  fiori-05  fiori-06  fiori-07  fiori-08

It’s a quick recipe and I lightly sauteed the fresh ingredients and made sure to keep the pasta al dente to keep the dish feeling spring-y. There was just a hint of hot pepper which complemented it nicely. I don’t think this is a good dish to make very spicy.

The zucchini flowers have a very mild taste. They definitely don’t dominate the dish. I’m curious if making this without the tomatoes would bring out their flavor more. The tomatoes were nice to have, though, because they kept everything moist.

By the way, since I bought ten zucchini and used seven in the recipe (I was just cooking for myself), the next day I sliced some of the zucchini to make this dish again, only with the actual zucchini this time, and with the three remaining flowers. I cut one flower off of the zucchini and a huge, fat, black slimy slug oozed out onto the cutting board.

I’m so glad I didn’t reach for that particular one yesterday or I might have lost my desire to eat the other flowers.

I just realized that the slug is hiding inside one of those pretty flowers that you can see in the pictures in this post.

Now try to get that image our of your head so we can move onto the recipe!

Ingredients (for two people, multiply as needed):
14 zucchini flowers, sliced in half lengthwise
14 cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves or quarters
6 shallots, chopped (you can use less if you’re not as big of a fan as I am)
A small pinch of peperoncino
Fresh basil leaves
2 servings of whole grain spaghetti

1. Saute the shallots in olive oil with a small pinch of peperoncino (how much depends on how spicy you like it).
2. After a few minutes, add the fresh tomatoes and salt and a little white wine and raise the heat to high.
3. Lower the heat and let everything simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to give off juice.
4. Add the flowers and saute until they reach the desired tenderness. Add a small amount of white wine (or water) if it looks like its getting too dry.
5. While you’re doing all that, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss the pasta in the pan with the sauce until evenly coated.
6. Put fresh basil leaves on top and serve immediately.

fiori-09  fiori-10  fiori-11

Posted in Food, Photography, Recipes | 6 Comments