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,




Romancing Romanesco

Fresh from my very own garden!

Romanesco. It sounds sexy, alluring, Italian. Like a tall, dark and handsome Roman God. But, in reality, it is nothing like the vision the name conjures up. Our eyes met in the produce department of a specialty food store last year. Its tall and pointy bright green clusters of organized mini Christmas trees spoke to me. “Pick me! Pick me!”

Little did I know that this newish, trending vegetable would become one of my favorites. A cross between broccoli and cauliflower and of Italian origin (I love anything Italian!), its densely packed flower buds form repeating spiral patterns that scientists have fun with. Called a “fractal” vegetable, it’s been discussed in mathematical and architectural circles as a miracle of nature.

The taste is earthier than broccoli and the body is firm with a texture more like a cauliflower. I cook it al dente so it retains its bite on the inside while having a softer first outer layer.

When I saw the seedlings in my local nursery last fall, I snatched them up, eager to have a love affair with Romanesco all spring. Watching my new garden additions grow was every bit as exciting as my fava bean experiment. Something different, a new character in my raised beds. The plants took off quickly, shooting three feet skyward, their enormous, sturdy leaves folding over one another. After four months of doting on my Romanesco, waiting for the spiky green vegetable to birth, I almost lost faith. All I had was a garden full of big leaves. Until one day, at the beginning of month five and after my daily inspection, a small chartreuse cone caught my eye, pushing up from the cuddle of her mother leaves. It was happening!

These plants are teaching me patience. Once emerged, they grow quickly. They are so gorgeous, I hated to cut the umbilical cord but I did. I shared this special gem, a la Italian, with my foodie cousin Ali and my gourmet mom.

There are so many ways to prepare Romanesco. I wanted to give it an Italian flair so I cut off each spiral, roasted them and then tossed with fried capers, olive oil, roasted red peppers, minced garlic and red pepper flakes. It does lose some of its vibrant green color in the cooking but the flavor and texture make up for it. There are four more plants in my garden in various stages awaiting for me to show my appreciation by cooking them in some creative way. I have all spring!

Ciao for now,

Mary




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




Harvesting Goodness

ImageMy daily catch!

Most of you know the three things I love most (besides my dogs!). They are gardening, travel, food and cooking. I’ve decided to pull these passions together to change the flavor of my blog slightly. Because it is creating such joy in my life, I will bring my garden more into focus, sharing with you its beauty and bounty. Its influence on me is changing my life in tiny increments. Each new sprout, flower of budding fruit and even weed give pause for admiration and awe. To be able to harvest, daily if I wish, and eat this freshness of nature, is teaching me to appreciate life’s abundance.

” Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” Tagore

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Swiss Chard, Lactino Kale & Italian Kale – all cozy cousins!

My seeds of Italian Kale, Lactino Kale and Swiss Chard are presently producing in abundance. Every night, in order to honor their appearance, I come home and must devise a way to cook these bold greens. Here are two recipes I created. They are both delicious, filled with nutrients and gorgeous on the plate.

Walnut Kale
 
Ingredients
  • ½ Cup toasted walnuts, crumbled slightly
  • 2 Tbls. Olive oil
  • ½ Cup sliced mushrooms (or more if you love mushrooms like I do)
  • 3 Cups coarsely chopped kale or any mixture of fresh hearty greens like chard
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ Cup sliced fresh fennel, about 1”long by ⅓” wide
  • Walnut Oil

Instructions
  1. Toast walnuts over medium heat just until slightly browned.
  2. Heat olive oil to medium and add the mushrooms, sautéing just until soft.
  3. Stir in the kale and garlic and cook over medium. Kale will wilt slightly but you don’t need to overcook. If the pan seems dry, add about ¼ cup of warm water.
  4. Stir in the fennel and let it heat through.
  5. Serve as a side dish or you could mound it over brown rice – yum.
  6. Drizzle with walnut oil to finish the flavor. A sprinkling of Fleur de Sel would also be nice!

 

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I love the “cooked” flavor of toasted walnuts.

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Mise en place.

 

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Healthy and beautiful to eat!

Omelet with Kale Sauté
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbls. Olive oil
  • ¼ Cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Cup coarsely chopped kale or like I did, combo of kale, chard and some baby broccoli
  • 2 eggs beaten with a pinch of salt and pepper
  • Slivered basil
  • Optional: cheese of your choice

Instructions
  1. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil to medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft. Place mushrooms in a small bowl to use later.
  2. Add kale to the pan and sauté gently just until wilting.
  3. Remove and place in separate bowl.
  4. Add some butter to the pan, heat to medium high and when hot, pour in the egg. Rotate the pan, lifting the cooked parts of the eggs to let the uncooked portion run underneath and cook. Put a lid on the pan for 2 minutes to finish cooking.
  5. Unmold the omelet onto a plate.  Sprinkle with cheese if you like. Pile the kale in the middle, sprinkle the basil on top. Voila! This is really tasty.

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Be creative! Add Herbs de Provence to the eggs. Add onions or shallots or green onions. The world is your oyster.

My hope is that you will be inspired to plant, even the tiniest garden or even just a few seeds and see how they influence your life. Planting seeds of goodness – isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Sparky having a zen moment in our garden.

Avec l’amour de ma maison à la vôtre avec l’amour, le bonheur et la bonne santé  (With love from my house to yours with love, happiness and good health)

Merci mille fois! (Thanks a  million!)