Colette Bizzoco, who works for the U.S. Postal Service, lives in Bethpage, with her three sons.
Have you always cooked?
I grew up in the kitchen. I was raised in Queens. My mother didn't drive, so we spent the days in the kitchen. There were no cookbooks. You just learned from watching. That's how I learned to make sauce, meatballs, stuffed artichokes, all that good stuff. There's a story behind every recipe.
Where does this recipe come from?
It came from my Grandma Ferrara. She was from Sicily. She showed my mother, and I learned from her. My aunts make it. It's pretty much a family recipe. Every time I make this recipe it brings back memories of my childhood, and of my grandmother and my mother who aren't around anymore. It's like a little connection with them. A lot of my family has passed on and cooking is a way to keep them around, especially during the holidays.
How is your cooking different from your grandmother's cooking?
These days, I try to make things a little less fattening. I try to use egg whites instead of egg yolks. I tried to clean up the old recipes a little bit, use olive oil instead of butter. I try to stay away from salt. I do a lot of grilling, which is low fat. And I use as little oil as possible when I fry.
Do your sons cook?
My older one likes to grill. But they don't like to get their hands dirty in the kitchen. They pretty much wait for my cooking. I hope they meet girls who cook!
Any tips for success with the eggplant salad?
Get nice fresh eggplants. They have to be firm, no bruises. Fresh ingredients bring out the best in the recipe. Sometimes if there are too many seeds they make the eggplants bitter. Cut them into bite-size cubes, not too big or small. During eggplant season, I buy as many local eggplants as I can. I fry and freeze them for up to 6 months, then all I have to do is put the eggplant in the oven with sauce and cheese and I have eggplant Parmesan.
ITALIAN EGGPLANT SALAD (CAPONATA)
Bizzoco says that the red wine vinegar makes the salad tangy. If you think 2 cups might be too much for you, start with one cup and work your way up to 2 cups or to taste. She recommends serving the salad with sliced brick oven bread or over fish or chicken.
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large eggplants, peeled and cubed
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 to 2 cups red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
One jar capers or small green pitted olives
1. In a large pot, saute the onions, garlic and celery in olive oil until tender. Add the eggplant and cook down for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and vinegar. Add the basil, oregano and pepper. Add the capers or olives. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cooks. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 10 to 12 side dish servings.