Home with the Lost Italian: Sicilian staples-Grilled Eggplant with Mint and Garlic-infused Olive Oil will bring your meal to Italy

 This week’s Grilled Eggplant with Mint and Garlic-Infused Olive Oil comes straight from the table of Tony’s aunt, Zia Pinuccia, a formidable Sicilian home cook.

Eggplant, or “melanzana” in Italian, is a staple in the Sicilian diet and appeared in myriad forms at almost every family dinner during our recent visit to Sicily: stewed with other veggies to make a sweet and sour caponata; breaded and delicately fried for perfect eggplant parmigiana; and, most often, grilled until tender and served with a simple mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, seasoning and fresh herbs.

We only have an herb garden this year, so for this recipe I purchased locally grown eggplants from Jim Driscoll at the farmers market located in the West Acres parking lot in south Fargo. For best results, we look for eggplants that are small to medium in size, as larger ones can become bitter.

Like the beloved eggplant, extra-virgin olive oil is also a culinary mainstay in Sicily, where it flows almost as prolifically as water. During our recent visit to southeastern Sicily, where olive trees grow in abundance, we watched in awe as various family members filled a bowl or bottle with extra-virgin olive oil straight from the tap of a large vat or medium-sized keg. What seemed like a luxury to us was an everyday, common occurrence for them.

For over a decade we have been filling our pantry with this high-quality olive oil, which Peter calls “Liquid Gold.” We love Peter’s unique connection to the couple who grows the olives and produces the oil, Eugene Ladopoulos and his wife, Dr. Olga Palagia. Dr. Palagia was Peter’s advisor at the University of Athens, where he achieved his Ph.D. in classical archaeology in 2003. During his candidacy, he spent a great deal of time with the couple and even worked at their olive grove in southern Greece, which overlooks the ancient city of Sparta.

Peter’s once-a-year sale is open to the public now until Thursday, Sept. 26, with the oil scheduled to arrive in late November. The oil is available for sale online — by the case — with pickup options in Fargo-Moorhead, Minneapolis or by FedEx delivery. The case price varies depending on location, and for orders picked up in Fargo-Moorhead the price is still just $139 per 12-bottle case, making it very affordable for those of us who use extra-virgin olive oil every day.

Thanks to Zia Pinuccia, we have a wealth of Sicilian recipes to remind us of our time together this summer, including this easy and delicious Grilled Eggplant with Mint and Garlic-Infused Olive Oil. And, thanks to the creative industry of our friend, we also have our own abundant supply of amazing olive oil on hand, just like real Sicilians. For more details on the Mistra Estate Olive Oil Sale, please visit www.peterschultzimporter.com.

Grilled Eggplant with Mint and Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

Serves: 4 to 6

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 medium or small eggplants, sliced into rounds

¼-inch thick extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing on eggplant

Kosher salt and black pepper, for sprinkling on eggplant

To prepare the grill, clean off any grime, brush the grill with vegetable oil (to prevent the eggplant from sticking) and preheat on high to about 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, mint, garlic, salt and pepper until combined. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour to infuse the flavors; may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Place the eggplant slices on a sheet pan and brush each side lightly with olive oil, followed by a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Grill the eggplant until just tender and golden grill marks appear, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Remove from grill and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Pour half of the olive oil mixture over the eggplant and gently toss to evenly coat, adding more as needed. Serve the remaining oil on the side for dipping with bread.

May be served warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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