Gourmandistan likes oral histories, like those generated by the WPA Writers’ Project (something we wish was still around—are you listening, government recovery people?). We think it’s lovely when individuals get a chance to share their ideas of the times they lived through. (Steve, especially, looks forward to lecturing people about life in Middle American Suburbia, if he can only get them to stop watching “Leave it to Beaver,” “My Three Sons” and just about any other show on TV Land.) But however much we want to travel the nostalgia path, we must remember that the map is not always accurate. Recently, Steve discovered many of his mother’s cues to his Italian heritage are not quite definitively “Italian” as he thought. The family’s pronunciation of capicola (“gabbagool”) follows a Neapolitan tradition, but Steve thought “struvela” was the name for the honey-dipped Christmas treat struffoli, showing how Neapolitan pronunciation changes from Mechanic Street in Orange, NJ to Graymoor in Louisville, KY. In another example, Steve’s mother has occasionally called him a “scorchamende” (her best phonetic guess at the spelling). She says it’s a word she picked up from her Italian-speaking grandmother that means “scamp” or “imp.” This word, as far as Steve can tell, does not exist in Italian. He has found the similar-syllabled scassacazzo, which is Italian for “pain in the ass.” (This word would apply to some, but not all, of the times Steve has been referred to as a “scorchamende.”)
Steve started to wonder how “authentic” his family’s style of eggplant parmigiana really is. As Summer reaches its peak, we’ve been busily sourcing paste tomatoes and preparing and freezing batches of sauce for Winter pizzas and spaghetti dinners. Steve traveled to Hazelfield Farm for Raphe and Teresa’s sauce tomatoes, and was gifted a few eggplants while he was there—so as soon as we had some mozzarella, we had no excuse for not making parmigiana. As our labors began with thinly slicing the eggplant and placing the slices on racks to dry, we began talking about how no other eggplant recipe we’ve seen calls for drying. Steve recalled his mother using a pasta board instead of racks, and Michelle suggested he call home to see if his memory was correct (“It will make good blog material!”). Steve’s mom said yes, she used a pasta board and paper towels to dry her eggplant—then recalled how her grandmother used to put her board across a hedge in her back yard, letting her eggplant dry in the sun before breading and frying.
Whether you use a rack, board or the sun, we must insist that drying the eggplant is definitely the reason Mechanic Street’s idiosyncratic parmigiana rises above the rest. The slices of fried, dried eggplant reconstitute themselves with tomato sauce as they bake, melding with the rest of the ingredients into something so good we wish we had it more often. But our ties to seasonality (and its construction being a scassacazzo) make parmigiana something we have only once or twice a year. Take our word for it—you’ve never had a better parmigiana.
UPDATE: Steve spoke with his mother again, who had contacted their cousin Rosanne for a bit more word sleuthing. They figured that “scorchamende” is the transliteration of a Neapolitan pronunciation of scostumatezza, meaning “debauched” or “ill-bred.” Steve’s mother assures him that she only called him this (which Steve remembers hearing with some frequency) when he was being “amusingly exasperating.”
DeMARZO FAMILY EGGPLANT PARMESAN
Slice eggplant very thin and dry overnight. If in a hurry, you can dry in a dehydrator.
After drying, put the slices through the traditional 3-bowl fryer prep: dip in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs.
Fry breaded slices in olive oil, and drain.
Layer eggplant with tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan and chopped basil and parsley—ending, of course, with a layer of cheese.
Bake in a medium (350 degree) oven for a half hour or so.
NOTE: Fried eggplant slices can be frozen in layers separated by wax paper.