Last updated on November 18th, 2016
It’s hot. Air conditioner spit is in my hair. It’s almost my birthday. I hear cicadas in the park. I have little desire to cook. Because it’s August. And I don’t want to make it any hotter in my apartment. If I turn on the oven, I’ll have to crank up the a/c. I want to spend my birthday money on a new chef’s pan. Not the Con Ed bill.
Maybe I’ll fry something.
Whenever I fry food, I think of Mrs. Ducci.
Almost eight years ago, I was a graduate student living in Florence, Italy. Fortuna granted me the opportunity to do research at a 400-year old villa in the heart of Tuscany. Italy is filled with fallen noble families. The Risorgimento, which unified Italy in 1861, broke apart a society which was not far from feudal, and families of noble rank saw their power, status, and riches slowly begin to disintegrate. The Ducci family was one of many.
La Signora Isabella Ducci, the family matriarch, lived in the family villa surrounded by art, antiques, friends, and her extended family. Little 3-year old Duccio Ducci was tearing around the rooms when I arrived, with a fellow student, to begin my investigation of their art collection. Lara and I worked with quiet amazement and reverence at the treasures that were before us, occasionally looking at each other with stupefied smiles. Our hearts were beating wildly as we held 400-year old canvases painted by students of Raphael. In the meantime, Mrs. Ducci was busy cooking for us.
With incredible simplicity and ease, she prepared chicken scallopini. It was dusted in flour, then pan-seared in olive oil and butter. Finally, she squeezed a lemon and added a bit of cream. It was lovely. We felt obligated to return to the paintings, to earn our keep, but Mrs. Ducci clearly took great pleasure in feeding us. She had also made a cake from scratch. She decided that the next time we visited, she would prepare una fritta: a big fry-up. I remember her clasping her hands with joy as she began to imagine what she would make for us.
We attempted another visit, but for one Italian reason or another, we never returned to the Ducci Villa. I have always felt a little guilty about not fulfilling our promise to share a fritta with Mrs. Ducci. Here’s something well-suited to cooking in the August heat, in honor of Mrs. Ducci.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking time
Makes 4 servings
- 2 small eggplants (Or if you don’t like eggplant, use zucchini.)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup spelt flour (regular flour will do, but spelt flour really increases the nutritional value)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
- 1/2 tablespoon hot pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
Cut the eggplant into strips. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with kosher salt, and then cover them with water. Let soak for 1 hour and then dry very well between paper towels or clean, non-terrycloth kitchen towels.
Beat the egg in a large, shallow bowl, and whisk the flour, oregano, and hot pepper flakes together in a separate shallow bowl. Dredge each of the eggplant strips in the egg, then the flour mixture.
Heat the olive oil in a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until rippling but not smoking. Fry the eggplant until golden brown.
Remove and sprinkle a little grated parmesan cheese over the fritta. Serve hot.