Life here in Rome lately has been chock-full of visitors. Since the beginning of March it seems like every week someone’s mom/sister/long lost college roommate’s ex boyfriend’s cousin’s dog has been visiting. Which on the one hand is a perfect excuse to do things like make reservations for the “let’s all collectively nerd out together at how awesome this is” underground Colosseum tour, and on the other, provides all sorts of opportunities for group dinners. To be fair, that’s not really vastly different from life the rest of the time ’round here. Regardless, the most recent Melanzane Monday extravaganza was held in honor of Erin’s mom, in town from Colorado, and apparently willing to subject herself to the Headline Foods kitchen. Well that, and she brought us chocolate chip cookies so we had to thank her somehow.
The idea behind this torta rustica sprang forth from several fonts of inspiration. One: we were making dinner on a Monday, thus, eggplant had to be involved. Two: another aspiring chef friend had recently been experimenting with an eggplant pie that I desperately wanted to replicate in all its homemade crust and long simmered tomato sauce deliciousness. Three: mmmmm pie. Sorry. Four: yeah, actually that’s it.
However, each of these inspirations had a vicious negative to them. One: we were making dinner on a Monday, thus, we couldn’t spend all day cooking and had to actually be at work. Two: long-simmering sauce? see number one. Three: yeah, no negatives to pie.
Still, with the taste of melanzane pie on our lips, and hour on the clock, and a €20 bill in my wallet, we knew we could make this work. First: pasta sfoglie! Basically just Italian puff pastry, but sold in the refrigerated section to allow for immediate use rather than Pepperidge Farms and their ridiculous “defrosting” period. Next: a melanzane! And some tomatoes! And the amazing mozzarella from the cheese shop below my apartment! And a Peroni! And, well, that’s about it.
We began with the traditional salting of the melanzane, which, fair readers, you have come to know well. Once sufficiently debittered, I tossed them with some oil and shoved them into the oven to roast for a bit, along with a pan of sliced and salted tomatoes. Italian ovens don’t really have “temperatures” on them, per se, so I just kinda cranked it up to high and let them cook and caramelize for twenty minutes or so. This is essential because they would end up spongy (melanzane) or just tasting like weirdly warm raw tomatoes (tomatoes) without any precooking, because the crust would burn in the time it took for the veg to properly roast.
So, with our veggies sliced and roasted, and our sheet of dough laid out upon a buttered pan, we layered in the melanzane and tomatoes, and topped it with a layer of sliced fresh mozzarella. Another sheet of dough on top, and twenty minutes or so in the still hot oven, and oh my did that yield some cheesily delicious results.
Torta rustica, I think you and I are going to be very good friends. Although next time, i’m totally allowing myself enough time to make the galette dough that I love so dearly. I think THAT would be the ideal.