Caponata, Adele’s Way

Adele. The queen of Sicilian cooking and of caponata.

Roberto’s mom, Adele, was my cooking mentor the two weeks I spent in Sicily. I watched as she prepared, mostly by memory, Pan di Spagna, quiche al formaggio, gnocchi, Insalata Russa (delectable potato, shrimp and carrot salad), risotto, frittata, brioche and caponata.

Adele is the “nonna” (grandmother) of the family and queen of the kitchen. She is truly beautiful. With soft brown eyes and a wry grin, she was rarely without perfectly quaffed hair, her pearl earrings and pearl necklace. Her elegance is the epitome of a classy, sophisticated Italian woman. How I wish I could absorb just a bit of her style and class.

Cooking together in her narrow and efficient kitchen, I observed her graceful flow. Adele was focused, almost serious about her cooking. I admired her relaxed style and could always feel the love she put into every dish. Eager to show me one of her treasures, her tiny frame reached up high to a book shelf, her fingers pulling at the binding to release a book that gently fell into her hands. It was a  family cookbook of Sicilian specialities. Her father was well-known, in his circle of friends, for his culinary prowess and Adele naturally fell in line to share the same passion.

My favorite piece of equipment in Adele’s kitchen is an antique scale with gram and kilo weights for accurate measuring of recipes like brioche.

One afternoon, we made caponata, a Sicilian summer classic, using the island’s abundance of fresh, local produce. Adele’s recipe and method appealed to me because it is baked in the oven instead of stirred on the stove, freeing up our time to prepare other dishes. In Sicily, caponata is usually served cold, as a side dish or salad. It is also delicious as a topping for crostini. Caponata will last in the refrigerator 10 days so it can be prepared in advance.

Caponata awaiting its transformation.

Adele’s Caponata

Caponata, Adele’s Way
 
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Caponata is a popular Sicilian dish found all over Sicily. This recipe is easy and delicious!
Author:
Recipe type: side dish, salad
Cuisine: Sicilian
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients
  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1” chunks (eggplant will shrink significantly as it cools)
  • 1 red pepper, sliced thinly into strips and then cut in half
  • 1 Tablespoon capers, rinsed to release their saltiness
  • ½ Cup Kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 Cups red or yellow grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly into rings
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts or almonds or white raisins-optional
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper

Instructions
  1. Stir all ingredients together and arrange on a sheet pan.
  2. Bake in a 350 degree oven, stirring every 15 minutes until done. The veggies will be soft but still retain their shape – not mushy. When I made this here in San Diego, it took 45 minutes and was absolutely delicious!
  3. Salt to taste.
  4. Notes: The capers and olives add salt so wait to taste for salt until after the caponata is finished.
  5. I prefer to stir in the nuts after it has been cooked to retain their texture.
  6. Cool and enjoy!

 

Finished delicious caponata.

Ready to serve!

Grazie Adele for sharing your kitchen, time and loving energy with me. We sure had a great time together!!

Adele and me sharing a moment.

“After arriving on the ancestral soil I figured out pretty quickly why that [Italian] heritage swamps all competition. It’s a culture that sweeps you in, sits you down in the kitchen, and feeds you so well you really don’t want to leave.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Ciao for now,




Preserving Garden Tomatoes

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San Marzanos awaiting transformation.

Tomato sauce recipes are ubiquitous. Ask your friends and they will all have their own versions which most cling to like a plum pit. If you grow your own tomatoes like I do, you want to do something really special with your precious harvest.

San Marzanos in abundance!

San Marzanos in abundance!

This year I am growing Italian San Marzano heirloom tomatoes. Originating from the town of San Marzano sul Sarno in southern Italy near Naples, they are a prized Italian treasure. You can usually find the canned version in specialty stores but rarely will you see them in the fresh fruit section of the grocery stores or even at Farmer’s Markets. They are a smaller, more elongated version of an American plum tomato or Roma, with a thick pulp and low acidity which makes them perfect for preserving. As if overnight, about five pounds of them ripened simultaneously in my garden. It was time to can.

How did I decide on what kind of sauce to make with these coveted tomatoes? I consulted my library of traditional Italian cookbooks from Giuliano Buglialli to Ada Boni. The suggestions ranged from complex to simple. From my travels in Italy, I know that the true Italian version of “sugo di pomodoro” or tomato sauce is not to embellish it with too many flavors. The intention is to keep it simple so the tang of the tomato can shine. I liked Bugialli’s technique of simplicity so improvised with my own twist.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Tomato Sauce
Serves: 6 cups

Ingredients
  • 4-5 lbs of San Marzano or Italian Plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbs Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Handful of basil chiffonade (thinly sliced basil leaves)

Instructions
  1. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
  2. Place in a deep saucepan.
  3. Stir in Garlic Olive Oil
  4. Stir in basil. The basil helps bring out the flavor of the tomato.
  5. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until juice is released and tomatoes break down. This took about 2 hours.

The finished sauce, thick and juicy and delectable.

The finished sauce, thick and juicy and delectable.

Most people will pass it through a food mill to eliminate the skins and seeds. Not me. I am ok with seeing and eating the entire fruit.
You can either pour it over hot pasta and sprinkle with parmesan or preserve it by canning like I did. Instead of placing my jars in a water bath and sealing my cans, I opt to freeze my sauce in the jars. It lasts nicely, keeps its vibrant red color and is easy!

Yield: About 6+ cups of sauce. I could just eat it with a spoon out of the jar.

Yield: About 6+ cups of sauce. I could just eat it with a spoon out of the jar.

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
― Miles Kington

Ciao with Love,

Mary




Picnic Palette

A feast for the eyes as well.

A feast for the eyes.

Color is the theme of this vibrant and hearty side dish that delivers both bold flavors and textures. Reminiscent of something Italian, it is the picture perfect picnic dish. Using a mandoline or vegetable slicer will make quick work of prepping the veggies. Be sure to slice them thinly, 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick, or you will be waiting forever for it to finish cooking. I used my herbal olive oils from The Virtuous Olive, to really push the flavors. It’s ok to use different veggies from the ones I chose. Just paint your palette and be prepared for rave reviews!

Summer Garden Side
 
Ingredients
  • 1-2 zucchinis, thinly sliced.
  • 2-3 bright red tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 eggplant, thinly sliced, then cut into half rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1-2 tsp. chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley or your choice) or use herbs de Provence
  • salt

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 X 10″ pan. The size of the pan is not important. If you are feeding a crowd, use a larger pan and prep more veggies.
  2. Toss veggies lightly in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  3. Layer zucchini slices along the side of the pan. Sprinkle with garlic, scatter the herbs and lightly salt. Repeat layering with tomatoes, garlic, herbs and salt, then the eggplant, garlic, herbs and salt. Continue layering until you’ve reached the end of the pan. If there are gaps, like I had in mine, roll up thin slices of zucchini and tomato to form mini roses. They serve a purpose and look pretty too. Drizzle entire dish with Bel Tocco Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  4. Bake for 1 hour or until veggies are soft but not soggy. Let cool and serve either warm or cold.

“Summer night–
even the stars
are whispering to each other.”
— Kobayashi Issa

Enjoy your summertime!

Ciao,

Mary




Spring Green Freshness

“I am the broth of love. Make soup to me.”

Jarod Kintz, Love quotes for the ages.

Warm or cold soup topped with shredded mint and served with a glass of cold Pinot Grigio. It is delicious with a splash of lemon or herb olive oil!

Warm or cold pea soup topped with shredded mint and served with a glass of cold Pinot Grigio. It is delicious with a splash of lemon or herb olive oil!

As I contemplate this story, a wasp hovers in front of my eyes and harmonies of chickadees fill the airwaves in stereo. My garden once again kidnaps my weekend. The whispering warm breeze, swaying palm trees, fluorescent geraniums and darting hummingbirds contribute to a feeling of intoxication in my own personal paradise. A cricket suddenly chimes in to serenade me, adding to this fairy tale.

Dancing color.

Dancing color.

The Chickadees have invaded and I love it!

The Chickadees have invaded and I love it!

My faithful companion stands guard and loves the birds.

My faithful companion stands guard and loves the birds.

In this simplistic of moments, I dream of a fresh green pea soup, infused with mint and embellished with crème fraîche. I actually leave my garden writing post to make it and I am back outside with a glass of wine half and hour later!

It is so easy to make either as a starter or main dish. Here’s how to do it with very little dishes – my favorite way!

My secret - a handheld Cuisinart blender.

My secret – a handheld Cuisinart blender.

The handheld purees in minutes. Way easier and less clean up than the food processor in my opinion.

The handheld purees in minutes. Way easier and less clean up than the food processor in my opinion.

Fresh Pea Soup
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ diced sweet onion
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil
  • ¼ Cup white wine
  • 2 Cups Chicken stock or light-colored vegetable stock
  • 1½ Cups peas, frozen or fresh
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh mint, shredded plus more for garnishing
  • Creme Fraîche, sour cream or yogurt for garnish if desired

Instructions
  1. Saute the onion and olive oil until soft. Add the white wine and cover, simmering until onion is very soft. Uncover and let reduce until very little liquid is left. Add the stock and mint and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook just until done, two minutes for frozen and five minutes for fresh peas. Turn the heat off. Using a handheld blender, purée until creamy and smooth. This should take about three minutes. Voila! You have soup! If hot, garnish with more shredded mint, chives, olive oil or crème fraîche. Warning: the crème fraîche will melt into the soup. I ate it cool garnished with shredded mint and a dose of Galantino Bel Tocco Olive Oil. It is so full of flavor with a hint of mint.

 

 

Version One, warm with melting creme fraiche.

Version One, warm with melting crème fraîche.

Enjoy the new, young vegetables of early summer. Let me know what your creative spirit comes up with!

Ciao for now!

Mary