Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nuts for Nutella


People can be pretty passionate about which foods they like—or don't. Just ask any card-carrying mayonnaise hater. On the happy end of the spectrum are the Nutella-holics. Trust me, I think the combo of hazelnut and chocolate is brilliant but I don't feel the need to slather it on everything from bread to my face like some of the freaks fans.


Sometimes I have an instant food association with someone. Mushroom risotto is Wendy. Ribs are my nephew Will. Salted caramel is Drea. And Nutella is the Yummy Mummy. Marina is an amazing cook and photographer and has her own book out filled with dozens of delicious dishes. So Marina, this one is for you in case you've run out of ways to get Nutella into your blood stream. 


I was drawn to this recipe because I like cookies, particularly oatmeal cookies. But I'd rather put chocolate chips in them instead of raisins, so this combination of an oatmeal cookie and a chocolate hazelnut cookie seemed pretty genius. When you think about it, is anyone really going to complain about a cookie infused with the Italian hazelnut sensation? The answer is no. I know this because I gave them to all my new neighbors and now they love me—inviting me over for drinks, bringing in my mail, etc. 


So if you have a Nutella freak in your life or simply need something for a bribe, this could be your ticket. 


And if you happen to be in San Francisco this week and are a Nutella lover, come join your brethren and celebrate the brand's 50th anniversary! It sounds like a Nutella love fest with a food truck making all things Nutella, t-shirts, stickers, and even free jars of the stuff. Check this out for the details. 



Oatella Cookies
from Food and Wine

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated shortening
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 13-oz jar Nutella
2 cups rolled oats

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the shortening with both sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. 
2. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl. Add the Nutella and beat until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then beat in the oats. 
3. Scoop 1-Tbsp mounds of dough 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the cooked are just set; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Don't overcook. They'll turn out pretty hard (even if you like crunchy cookies). 
4. Immediately transfer the cookies from the pan to the racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Holding On


Whoa!!! Did I see my southern friends post photos last week on Facebook of their kids going back to school?! WTF?! It's the middle of August?! Since when did the buzzkill guillotine cut off summer while we're still in the thick of it? Well, I'm in the thick of fog actually, but there are times in the day when I see the sunshine. Everyone keeps telling me to wait until September when apparently summer arrives in San Francisco. We do have plenty of amazing summer produce so at least it tastes like summer to me. 


A quintessential summer dish in my book is a caprese salad. Done right, this timeless combination of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil is more than the sum of its parts. But every component counts, so you've got to find really good stuff or it's a little depressing—no better than the tomatoes you find in the grocery store in January. And while I like a good classic, I often find myself drawn to push the envelop—just a tad. One of my favorite summer fruits is the nectarine, and I thought it might be a nice add to a traditional caprese. And then since I hate my electric stove, I thought I'd expand it even further and make a full dinner caprese highlighting some of summer's best bounty. 


Actually, as I type this, I realize one could argue it's not a caprese at all. Just because a dish has tomato, mozzarella and basil in it doesn't automatically make it a caprese. It's like the people who rate recipes on cooking sites and they give the recipe "4 forks" but then proceed to tell you that they completely changed every ingredient in the recipe. Ummm, yeah, bozo, that's not even the same recipe so how can you even rate it? 


Given that, I guess I'm better off stating that this dish was perhaps inspired by the caprese salad. But this version has been bulked up to make it a legit dinner. And even if you don't hate your stove like I do, but are just feeling lazy or it's too hot to cook where you are (damn you), then this is your ticket. 

You do start with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, and then I added fresh corn cut off the cob, rotisserie chicken, arugula and my beloved nectarines. You could get crazy and shake up the caprese world even more by substituting any combination of bacon, prosciutto, peaches, roasted red peppers, roasted zucchini, burrata, mint or even tarragon. Drizzled with some good olive oil and lots of fresh ground pepper and salt, you've got a guaranteed winner. 


Even though kids are starting to head back to school, you've still got some weeks left before the stone fruit disappears. Here are a few nectarine tips you may appreciate: 
  • Go for freckles. Sun spots on nectarines are a sign of sweetness. 
  • Take a whiff. Choose fruit that is fragrant and has a little give or is only moderately firm. 
  • Don't chill. For the fullest flavor and juiciest fruit, store nectarines at room temperature, slightly apart, until they yield slightly to the touch. Then put them in the refrigerator. 
  • Know your colors. White nectarines are sweet and delicate and perfect served fresh in desserts. Yellow ones are brighter and richer flavored and can be served raw or cooked in sweet or savory dishes. And there is no need to remove the skin when cooking, unlike peaches. 
And hurry the hell up, September!  


Summer's Bounty Caprese Salad

Ingredients
1 pint cherry tomatoes (or 1.5 lb heirloom tomatoes)
3 ripe nectarines
8 oz fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese
corn cut from 1 ear
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
4-6 oz arugula (or other lettuce)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (purple or green)
handful fresh mint, chopped
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp white balsamic (traditional can work too)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Fresh salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Whisk together vinegars, oil, mustard, salt and pepper. 
2. Slice tomatoes and nectarines, and tear burrata or mozzarella into chunks. Add to large bowl with corn, shredded chicken, and arugula. Drizzle dressing on top, mix and add salt and pepper to taste. 
3. Turn onto a large platter and scatter basil and mint on top. Add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Year of the Horse/Summer of Corn Soup


While 2014 is the Year of the Horse, it must be the Summer of Corn Soup. I've been eating out a lot this summer. A. Lot. And corn soup seems to be in high rotation on the restaurant scene. I'm not complaining. If you're all about farm to table and using seasonal ingredients (which seems de rigueur with many chefs these days), then corn soup makes total sense given corn's availability and sweetness during this time of year.

I happen to really like corn soup. Maybe it reminds me a little bit of the creamed corn of my youth. It was one veggie I gladly heaped on my plate. Probably because it was almost dessert-like, resembling some type of savory yet slightly sweet pudding. Cornbread in the south typically has no sugar in it. While I like that, especially dunked in a cup of milk, I'm secretly partial to the "cornbread" I find in restaurants outside of the south or from boxes sold in the grocery store. My grandmother calls that sweet cake. You can call it anything you want and I will eat it by the pan. This is coming from the girl who prefers eating yellow cake mix raw rather than cooked, so it really isn't all that surprising that I like corn soup.


I've actually become a little obsessive about it. I anxiously await the presentation of the menu at a restaurant and make a visual bee line to the appetizer section hoping, with bated breath, to see corn soup listed. More often than not it is, but the successful manifestation of it varies greatly. I feel like I've turned into my father. He nearly almost always orders French onion soup if he sees it on the menu. It doesn't matter if it's 10 o'clock in the morning or 100 degrees outside. He sees it, he gets it, and he's generally happy with it. Well, that's me this summer except that I'm much less accepting. I've started acting like a judge at an Olympic figure skating competition.

Hmmm, this one needs some finishing salt. 

Ohhh, this one is so silky. Did they run that through the chinois twice? 

Ahhh, the aleppo pepper really adds the perfect hit of smokiness and depth. 

I recognize that I sound like a moron, but it's as if I'm chasing the perfect bowl of corn soup.



I actually think I found it. I ordered it to share with my dining companion but after tasting it I was ready to fight him for it. And then I secretly wanted another bowl but was too embarrassed to ask for it. So, after seeing a bin of fresh corn at the farmer's market last weekend, I thought I'd try to replicate it. I'm sure the chef of the restaurant would give me a big eye roll right about now. "Bitch, puh-leaze," he's saying under his breath.  Whatevs. My version turned out awesome.



I don't think I can really claim much credit. The key, of course, is to get really good corn. Sweet summer corn is truly fabulous with its row upon row of plump, slightly misshapen and firm kernels in varying shades of yellow beneath it's silky cover. It's like unwrapping a present. 



Anyway, corn soup. It's really easy to make as the corn is the superstar. You basically just cut the kernels off the cob and simmer them in some broth and a little cream until tender. You could stop there but I was going for restaurant-quality corn soup, which would require a few more steps. Namely pureeing it. And then because I wanted fancy (as in "refined" not as in Iggy Azalea) corn soup, I strained it and discarded all the solids.



What you're left with is almost liquified sweet earthy summer corn. It's silky smooth and on the thin side by intention. It's ethereally light but quite rich. It's the essence of a perfect cob of corn.


Fresh Corn Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
8 cups of corn kernels (cut from 10-14 ears)
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup cream
1/2 stick of butter
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chipped fresh chives
Ground Aleppo pepper and good olive oil to finish

Directions
1. Warm olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions until caramelized, approximately 7 minutes. 
2. Simmer corn with salt, onion, chicken broth, cream in a large pot or Dutch oven, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender. Add the butter and stir until melted. This is actually what adds silkiness to the soup. Remove from heat. 
3. Puree soup in batched in a blender or using an immersion blender in the pot. As each batch is pureed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan. 
4. Reheat soup, stirring, on low, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. If soup is too thick, thin with a little chicken broth or water. 
5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a little Aleppo pepper and chives on top. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pop Goes Summer


It's summertime and the living is easy, right? Umm, apparently I didn't get that memo this year. Frankly, I'm still in a state of shock that we just celebrated America's birthday—again. Didn't we just do that, like, 3 months ago? I love this holiday but just can't believe we've already blown through half the year!

If I'm being honest, it doesn't really feel like summer to me. I'm in San Francisco this year so Summer has her own ideas about when and how to show herself—and let's just say she's being quite coy if not downright AWOL. I'm not totally surprised. I mean I was warned but you kind of just nod your head as a courtesy, saying to yourself, "They can't really mean that I should bring my down puffer jacket with me to a daytime outdoor concert in mid-June, right?" Yes, they actually do.



I've also been traveling a ton and haven't had much downtime so it just doesn't feel like summer to me. Where is the sand between my toes, my sunburned nose, the slower pace? Please know that I'm not complaining. It just feels like sometimes we're running so fast we don't stop and enjoy the small moments we're given. I made a commitment to fix that upon my return to my own bed after a 12-day stint. Thankfully Summer cooperated and I had the most lovely leisurely, sunny stroll through the Ferry Building's farmers market on Saturday with my new friend Marisa (thank you, Val and David, for the introduction!). We decided to select a few items from the market and make a picnic lunch of it. So many amazing things: juicy, ripe peaches; a zingy eggplant hummus with fresh falafel; rotisserie crack, I mean, chicken; and some fresh shucked Sweet Water oysters. It was kind of ridiculous actually and definitely made me pause and enjoy the simple pleasure of each bite and the sunshine on my face and the sea air I was breathing. And for the first time, it actually felt like summer to me.



While at the market, I picked up a pint of organic grape tomatoes that looked like candy and made a commitment to make dinner with them on Sunday. I've been on the road eating and drinking excessively and it was just a long holiday weekend (which was not a dry one), so figured my body was more than overdue for some healthy nourishment. But I also wanted something quick and tasty. Food has to taste good to me. I can't suck down a wheatgrass juice shot if you promised it would rid me of cancer forever. But I've learned that really good, really delicious food can be fast and healthy. This is one of those dishes. And honestly perfect for summer.



Just sear some sea scallops, char some cherry tomatoes until they burst, and then finish the dish with some white wine vinegar, fresh tarragon and toasted hazelnuts (or leave the hazelnuts out if you forgot to add them like me). The dish literally comes together in minutes and with every bite, pop goes summer! 

Hello, Summer! I'm looking forward to hanging out more with you!  

Scallops with Hazelnuts and Warm Tomatoes
from Bon Appetit

Ingredients 
1/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts 
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs of large sea scallops, side muscle removed, patted dry 
1 pint sun gold or grape tomatoes
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh tarragon leaves

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil; season with salt and pepper. 
2. Place sea scallops on a few paper towels and pat dry. This is important so don't skip! Otherwise your scallops will release a bunch of liquid when they cook—not good. 
3. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a large cast iron or probably better yet a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown (and release from the pan) and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. 
4. Pour off most liquid in skillet. Add tomatoes and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook tossing until some tomatoes have burst, about 4 minutes. Mix in vinegar and serve with scallops topped with tarragon and hazelnuts. 
Serves 4

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BYOB(W)

So you probably thought I've been slipping these past few months with no posts. But here's the thing: it's really hard to have a cooking blog if you haven't been cooking. Well, if by "cooking" you mean opening up a bottle of wine or pouring a bourbon neat, then I've definitely been cooking my ass off! I I relocated (temporarily, not temporarily—TBD) to San Francisco a few months ago and literally I have been out almost every single day given the ridiculous access to incredible restaurants that surround me. I mean I have yet to have a bad meal—and I've had A LOT of meals. Remember the whole "freshman 15" thing. Well, I've discovering there is also a "San Francisco 15" thing. Thank God summers are too cold up here to wear a bathing suit! 


I have cooked exactly twice since coming north and one was this drink (OK, so I'm using that term "cooking" loosely here). But it's definitely a blog-worthy dish . . . er . . . drink. I made it as a signature drink for a party a friend hosted for this event. I thought she said it was BYOB (which I'm totally down with), but then she corrected me, saying the party was for BYOBW. What?! Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. 


Yep, this is a race comprised of adults dressed in ridiculous costumes (i.e. Hello, Mr. Stormtrooper) riding very tiny and unstable plastic tricycles, et. al. down a really steep and very curvy road (in fact the crookedest road in all of San Francisco). How people do not lose their life or limb is clearly an act of God. If you don't believe in a higher power, come watch this race. It's kind of like watching Jackass. Lots of people doing really stupid and dangerously risky things with their bodies. It's completely absurd but also looks fun as hell. [And I apologize for being a dummy and not holding my camera horizontal when shooting. Rookie!]

video

Racers are corralled together in heats (how this is organized is beyond me but it seems to work) and then they're off—and carnage ensues. 


Every turn means epic mass collisions and traffic jams with the crowd moaning and groaning along with them. Yet, when the racers finish, they steadfastly march back up the side of the hill with enormous grins on their faces and do it all over again—until their vehicle is basically demolished. 

video

Towards the end of the race, it was all I could do to hold myself back from grabbing someone's nearly crushed big wheel and throwing myself down a steep hill with no body protection. I heard someone say it was the most fun you can have legally and I think he may be right. 

My drink is easy to make but looks very upscale and adult, which is about as opposite as you can get from Bring Your Own Big Wheel (BYOBW) but no one seemed to mind. It was the Bourbini, which was created originally by Louisville's Doc Crow and combines America's native (and my favorite) spirit with champagne for a unique twist. 


And in case you want to see more of the craziness, you can watch here


Bourbini

Ingredients
1 oz bourbon (I used Bulleit)
2 dashes peach bitters (I found at BevMo)
1/2 oz peach liqueur (also found at BevMo)
Lime slice
Sparkling wine topper
Fresh mint

Preparation
Shake ingredients with ice, strain into glass, top with sparkling wine and garnish with mint sprig.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

One-Track Mind


My father, whom most people call the Colonel or KP, kind of has a one-track mind. He gets fixated on one thing and it remains top-of-mind for quite a while. Anytime you speak to him, he'll ask you the one same question as if he's asking you for the very first time. It's like a weird selective amnesia.

Anyway, he really likes comfort foods, such as soups, beef stroganoff, pot roast, etc. So when I moved into my first house after college, my father decided to buy me a "very special gift." He was quite proud that he thought of this and picked it out all by himself. Of course my interest was piqued and I couldn't wait to open this mystery gift. Low and behold, I unwrapped a . . .  crock pot. My reaction was probably similar to my mom's when, upon their first Christmas together as a married couple, she opened her "very special gift" he picked out to find a vacuum cleaner.  [Side note: he wisely adopted a no-appliance gift policy since, which may be the secret to their nearly 52-year union.]



On the upside, my new crock pot wasn't avocado green, like my mom's from Rival in the 1970s. I'm not going to say it was a self-serving gift but I kind of think he was hoping I'd make a lot of slow-cooked meals for him. I also think he thought he was doing me a massive favor by giving me something that would be an easy tool to make really delicious meals. After all, I did love to cook and I was just getting into the work world so I'd have less free time on my hands. I can see how he thought this was the most thoughtful gift in the world.



And then the one-track mind question began. Every single time we spoke, he'd excitedly ask, "So, how's your crock pot?!" I know he was hoping I'd say, "Dad, how can I ever thank you? My crock pot rocks! I'm cooking pot roasts left and right! Come over for dinner!" Instead, I was like, "Umm, it's still in the box." It wasn't that I was defiant about making delicious, easy meals. I think I wanted to spread my culinary wings once out of the nest. I was more interested in making technically challenging, somewhat exotic meals that I hadn't grown up on. I wanted to slave for 3 days in a kitchen making a 7-course French meal. I probably even wanted to woo a man with a proposal-worthy meal, which I guess I didn't think could come from a crock pot. Ironically, most boys would probably rather have a pot roast than a perfectly roasted 2-oz duck breast with a juniper berry gastrique. Oh knowledge in youth is wisdom in age . . . . So my crock pot sat in the cupboard collecting dust from many years, in spite of my father's routine questioning of its usage.



At some point, I realized I was being an idiot. And at some point, I realized the crock pot was rebranded as the "slow cooker," which sounds way sexier. Finally I saw the light my father had been trying to shine on me for years. In short, the crock pot: 1) Makes the cheapest cuts of meat taste amazing. 2) They're blindingly simple to use. 3) Using one means your dinner's waiting for you when you come in from work. Comfort food is comfort food for a reason. And life is busy. If you can use the slow cooker to make some of your beloved childhood meals while you're working your ass off, why not?!

While I don't use my slow cooker as often as I should, a rainstorm is heading to SoCal so it would be an ideal time to get it out. And by rainstorm, I mean "the wettest in two years." And by the wettest in two years, I mean the last time this much rain has come to the area was on March 25, 2012 when 0.91 inches of precipitation fell. I'm just saying that rain in SoCal is a kin to the crippling effects Storm Leon dealt to Atlanta. This winter "storm" will sweep away the 70-degree temperatures the region has enjoyed with temps dropping to the low to mid 60s. Overnight lows could dip precariously into the upper 40s. It might even rain for the Academy Awards on Sunday. *Gasp!* Good lord are we weather wimps! We've only had a total of 1.2 inches of rain since July 1 and have been in a full-on drought. But that's why I live here and not in Portland. 



And if you live in the midwest or on the east coast, I hope your slow cooker has been in heavy rotation. You've had an awful winter and could use a little culinary TLC—and an early spring. Regardless of your geography, almost anyone would welcome a tasty meal cooked with little effort which renders your house intoxicatingly fragrant and allows you to spend the day getting shit done. As such, you should make this recipe. It's not your "everyday slow cooker meal," which I kind of like, but is just as delicious, tender and comforting. Moroccan food is certainly nothing I grew up on, but I find myself gravitating towards the spices and ingredients. More Mediterranean than Middle Eastern, Moroccan food is satisfying yet healthy with layer after layer of flavor given the vast arsenal of spices used. Typically everything is cooked together, yielding a heavenly melange.



The beauty of the slow cooker is its simplicity. You prep your ingredients, add them to the slow cooker and press Start. But there is a difference between a good slow-coooker meal and a great slow-cooker meal. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind:

Prepping. When you take a few minutes to brown your meat and sauté your vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker, you'll be rewarded with an additional layer of deep, caramelized flavor.

Avoid overcrowding. For best results, fill a slow cooker between one-half and two-thirds full.

Leave it alone. Resist the urge to lift the lid of your slow cooker to stir or peek at your meal. Each time you remove the lid, enough heat escapes to lengthen the cooking time by 20-30 minutes. Only open it once, within the final hour of cooking, to check doneness.

Plan ahead. If you want to turn your slow cooker on first thing in the morning, a little planning goes a long way. The night before do all the prep. Cut and trim the meat, chop the veggies, measure out dry ingredients, etc. Do not refrigerate components in the actual slow cooker. A cold insert takes too long to heat up and affects cooking time and food safety.

Happy slow cooking!





Slow Cooker Chicken and Chickpeas

Ingredients
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 tsp group black pepper
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh garlic
1 1 /4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp honey
1 (3-in) cinnamon stick
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
2 (15-oz) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup cilantro chopped

Directions
1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirls to coat. Sprinkle meaty side of chicken with 1.2 tsp salt and pepper. Add chicken to the pan, meaty side down; cook 5 minutes or until well browned. Remove from pan (do not brown other side).
2. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 4 minutes. Add cumin and next 6 ingredients (through red pepper); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add stock, honey, and cinnamon, scraping pan to loosen browned bits; bring to a simmer. Carefully pour mixture into a 6 qt slow cooker. Stir in apricots and chickpeas.
3. Arrange chicken, browned side up, on top of chickpea mixture. Cover and cook on low for approximately 7 hours. Discard cinnamon stick. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over couscous or quinoa.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Prettier than a Picture


When I was young, I fancied myself to be quite the little artist. I would spend most of my time drawing with nary a blank piece of paper safe. There are two drawings that stand out in my memory. One was King Tut's sarcophagus I did in pencil. I think I was in 4th grade. I thought it kicked ass. I also thought my talent was well beyond my years—probably because that what your parents and grandparents tell you, right? 


The second was a few years later. It was a reproduction of a Cosmopolitan magazine issue with Paulina Porizkova on the cover. Mind you this was in the early 80s, so while stunning, Paulina was definitely channeling a weird mash-up of Grace Jones and Billy Ray Cyrus. Even though I'd taken some artistic license and redesigned her dress, I thought my finished piece was a kin to a photo replica. 


I could barely digest that I had drawn such an amazing piece. Well, needless to say, the Guggenheim did not come calling (but this was before answering machines so maybe they did call and no one was home). I found the drawing and literally laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of my original opinion. That drawing was about as good looking as Ric Ocasek, which further supports the proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. [P.S. Thanks, Mom, for keeping all my "art."]


They say you eat with your eyes, which I think by and large is true. But this is a dish that may not be the prettiest although it's definitely one of the tastiest. Actually, it isn't that it doesn't look appetizing. It's more of an issue where I couldn't figure out how to photograph it in a manner that adequately captured the yumminess. Apparently the chef who invented this had the same problem because there was no photo of this dish in his cookbook either.


It is called caponata, which is a beloved Sicilian dish best described as a sweet and sour eggplant stew. I'm not really into eggplant, but this dish is so much more than that. It's more of a hearty, savory relish with eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sweetened with caramelized onions and golden raisins. This is a sophisticated crowd pleaser, comprised of familiar ingredients with a twist. If you love ratatouille, you'll love this. It's kind of an Italian take on it with a bigger hit of acidity from red wine vinegar that I think is frankly borderline addictive. I like to serve it with grilled bread topped with a dollop of burrata cheese. But you could definitely serve it over pasta or even as an open-faced sandwich.


You can actually bang this out pretty quickly if you're a fast chopper. If not, it still comes together pretty quickly once everything is in the pot. In truth, the finished dish tastes like it took hours and hours to make. It's not something you likely see everyday so it feels a little special even though it's very rustic and comforting. 


It's typically served at room temperature which is great for entertaining but also keeps in the refrigerator for several days—if there's any leftover. So don't let my ugly photos dissuade you. This is good stuff. 


Caponata Modo Mia
from Urban Italian 

Ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium inion, diced large
1 red pepper, diced large
1 yellow pepper, diced large
2 japanese eggplant, diced large
3 stalks celery, diced large
2 small zucchini, diced large
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
1/2 cup golden raisins, rehydrated in 1 cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Directions
1. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, peppers, and eggplant. When the vegetables have softened (about 5 minutes), add the celery and zucchini. Season liberally with half the salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients and continue to cook. 
2. After 10 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and garlic. Cover and reduce the heat to medium, and let the steam roast the vegetables for 5 minutes. 
3. Add the rehydrated raisins (without the water), tomato sauce and oregano. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not falling apart and the sauce is well incorporated. 
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. 
Note: This can be served hot, but I prefer it at room temperature with burrata cheese mounded on top served with grilled, sliced bread. It can definitely keep in the fridge for up to a week.