On the Road with Mike

I’ve been traveling the NBA road for a long time now as a coach or an analyst. And though I sometimes miss the comforts of home, I still relish being close to the game. I also appreciate having had the opportunity to experience so many terrific restaurants in different cities over the years. As you might have guessed, I’m somewhat partial to those of the Italian variety. I’ve spent a lot of time in Cleveland where there are at least a dozen great ones in the old-time Italian neighborhood Murray Hill.

Recently I had the chance to visit Valerio’s Itallian Village Ristorante. It’s the kind of wonderful, cozy place that makes you forget you’re dining out. Whenever I try a new Italian restaurant one of the dishes I always look for on the menu is Eggplant Parmigiana. When I first discovered Valerio’s over a decade ago I didn’t see it on the menu. But I had a hunch the chef would have a recipe up his sleeve. And fortunately I had an inside connection – my friend happened to know chef-owner Valerio Iorio and made the introduction. Turns out the charismatic Valerio is known to be a warm, welcoming host who loves to come out of the kitchen and talk to all the guests to make sure they’re having a good time.

That night Valerio prepared his mother’s famous Melanzane all’ Occhio for me, which still ranks among my top three eggplant dishes to this day. The ingredients are simple, but the eggplant is tender and incredibly flavorful. And since Mama Iorio’s recipe does not use breadcrumbs it’s a bit lighter than your typical Eggplant Parmigiana  – so you’ll have plenty of room to try one of Valerio’s authentic, Florentine pastas. He also serves outstanding seafood; when it’s available I usually accompany my eggplant with an order of the fresh Branzino. And of course no Italian dinner is complete without red wine – Valerio offers an excellent selection of reasonably priced bottles.

Melanzane all’ Occhio is still not on the menu, but Valerio was generous enough to share his mother’s recipe in case you want to give it a shot at home. But it might just be easier head over to Valerio’s and see if you can convince him to make you the real deal.

Melanzane all ‘Occhio

Beat eggs and grated Parmesan cheese into a paste, adding salt and pepper to taste. Peel the skin off of the eggplant and slice it cross-wise into two-inch thick discs.  Then cut the discs in half like a pita, but do not cut all the way through. You want the eggplant to remain attached on one end. Spread the paste inside – a little or a lot depending on how rich you want to go – and then close the eggplant like a sandwich. Coat the outside of the eggplant with flower and pan-fry both sides in extra virgin olive oil until golden brown. Finally, cook the eggplant in a pot of hot tomato sauce for another five minutes so that it absorbs the flavor of the sauce. Buon Appetito.

For more information about Valerio’s Ristorante visit the website here.

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