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San Lorenzo was a young martyr of the Roman era who was persecuted and then sentenced in a terrible way: roasted alive on a grill rack.
The story - or the legend - has this young saint so strong in his faith to be able to withstand his horrible pain without a cry. He even found the strength to reproach his persecutors by saying "I am done on this side. Flip me over."
This is the reason why he is often represented while holding a grill-rack with his hand.
San Lorenzo is the patron saint of the lovely fisherman village on the island where I was born, off the coast of Tuscany.
I don't know the reason why this young martyr was chosen as patron of a place surrounded by water and the only relation I can see is the stubbornness he had - rebelling against persecution in name of a religion that promised a paradise - and the stubbornness the islanders had through the centuries with the aim of living there, fighting loneliness and pirates to preserve the paradise they felt fortunate to call home.
It is to remind us of this strength and resistance of our ancestors, both sailors and peasants, that the climax of the Feast is a row boat race which runs after sunset.
The race runs from inside the harbour toward the pretty promontory in front of it; the boats make three complete courses, with five turns total. There are only three boats, which represent the three districts of this small village. The crews, four handsome and stout boys at the oars plus a stern man on each boat, are able to arouse the most enthusiastic and noisy support from the people crowding the docks - especially girls. The hours before the event are filled with excitement; the local music band runs along the lovely promenade; young men follow it singing short songs, shouting mottos, beating improvised drums, waving the flags of their "rione": Blue and yellow for Moletto (little dock), white and green for Chiesa (the neighbourhood of the church), red and black for Saraceno (a tiny bay next to the port which takes the name from a tower built to spot the Saracen pirates).
The harbour was founded at the beginning of the 1700's by colonies of fishermen from Liguria and Napoli, on the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and a 1500 year old dock. The traditional cuisine of the people from Napoli, which is the birthplace of the Parmigiana di Melanzana, might be the reason why still nowadays, on August the 10th - middle of summer, the best season for eggplants- it is mandatory that this dish be put on the islanders' tables to celebrate San Lorenzo.
I offer it a little fancier here.
TIMBALLO DI PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE
PARMESAN EGGPLANTS TIMBALE
Ingredients for 4:
700 gr ( 1 + ½ pd) eggplants
800 gr ( 1 pd + 10 Oz) ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
250 gr ( 8 Oz) Mozzarella cheese, diced
100 gr ( 3 Oz) grated Parmgiano Reggiano cheese
peanut oil for frying
flour to dust
50 gr ( 1 + ½ Oz) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 garlic clove
½ medium onion
6 fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
butter to grease
fresh basil leaves
100 gr ( 3 Oz) sugar
Peel the eggplant, trying to make long strips with the skin.
Put to boil a pot of water; add salt then toss in the strips of skin. Cook until tender, then drain.
Slice the eggplant, put in a colander sprinkled with coarse salt. Set for 30 - 40 minutes to let the juices run out.
Rinse them quickly, pat dry and flour them, shaking off the excess. Heat the peanut oil to 175° (347° F) and deep fry the eggplant slices. Place them on paper towels.
Dice the tomatoes.
Put the olive oil, garlic, onion cut in pieces, diced tomatoes, basil and 10 gr of coarse salt in a sauce pan. Cook 15 - 20 minutes. Then pass the sauce through a food mill, eliminating seeds and skin.
Butter 4 individual moulds. Line them with the boiled skin of the eggplant, dark side outside.
Arrange the fried eggplant on the bottom, cover with tomato sauce, place some mozzarella cubes and sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Repeat, layering all the ingredients. Finish with grated cheese.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180° for about 25 minutes.
Take out from the oven, wait a few minutes before removing the timbales upside down.
Note: the eggplant can be sliced and grilled, for a lighter recipe. In this case it is not necessary to process them with salt at the beginning.
Slice the last eggplant very thin, better with a slicer, without peeling it.
Prepare a simple syrup with the sugar and the same weight of water (about ½ cup).
Brush the slices with the syrup; place them on a oven paper (better a silicon sheet) and microwave at ¾ power for 3 minutes.
Blanch, peel and seed, dice 2 big ripe tomatoes. Pure them with a food mill, then pass through a sifter. Dress with a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt. Put in a syphon bottle with a spoon of melted gelatin and refrigerate for one hour. Set a curl on top of the timbale just before serving.
Insert the crispy eggplant on top of the timbale along with a fried basil leaf.