29 September 2013

Summer Re-Cap

Summer equals holidays, fall equals back to school -- this much is understood. In New York City during the weeks before Labor Day there is a palpable shift in pace and population. Pre-Labor Day the  subway is blissfully low-stress, there is no line at my morning coffee stop, and generally I'm not getting elbowed around as much. As adults and children alike warm up to the busy work/school fall season and the weather cools down, I've been having a nice time reflecting on the summer season and organizing photos. 

Watery getaways peppered the summer in Montauk, New Hampshire, and the Hudson Valley. 

Friends and family came bringing good cheer (and cooking skills) from Ireland and Italy. 

There were cobblers and BBQ and fire escape brunch.

There was very little in the way of formal cooking. But then, post-labor day, with the fruits of summer still present if dwindling at the markets, I collected all I could to make a dish that quite literally glows with the flavor of summer (and a healthy heap of olive oil).  

This caponata brings together all of the best of summer's vegetables, with some crunch added by roasted almonds to keep the texture from feeling too mushy. Being careful not to overcook everything also helps. Feel free to double the recipe as this keeps wonderfully, goes nicely as a side dish or main course, and fits nicely in an omelet too.  
Eggplant Caponata
Adapted from Earth to Table Cookbook, via Leites Culinaria
Serves 6 as a side dish, 4 as a main course

1 large eggplant (about 1-1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin)
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup bulb fennel, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup drained capers
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup whole raw almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with salt then transfer to to a colander and place it back over the  bowl to drain for 1 hour. Rinse well and pat it dry with paper towels.

Line a plate with several layers of paper towels. In a large, nonstick pan heat 1/2 cup of olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant and sauté on all sides until nicely golden brown on all sides and tender, about 10 minutes in total. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to the paper towels to drain.

Add the celery and the fennel to the pot or skillet and sauté for 1 minute. Add the zucchini and sauté for 3 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the paper towels. Add the remaining oil to the same pan and sauté the garlic and onion on medium until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, capers, raisins, vinegar, and sugar and cook for 10 minutes longer. Return the reserved eggplant, celery, fennel, and zucchini to the tomato mixture and cook for 10 minutes, folding the vegetables occasionally and carefully to prevent the entire thing turning into mush and allowing the vegetables to remain independent of one another. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carefully transfer the vegetables to a wide, shallow dish and let it cool for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 1 week.

About 1 hour before serving the caponata, remove it from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature. Serve sprinkled with almonds and basil.

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