eggplant caponata

I first alluded to this dish back when I posted on a cold noodle salad I’d made for a dinner in my favorite style: that is to say, tapas, or little plates. It’s a trendy word these days, but eight times out of 10 I’d rather have a cocktail party at my table over a big plate of food.


This past week, almost two years later, that dish came to mind again. We’d been invited to an Italian-style potluck, and as usual, I signed up for appetizers. It was a mid-week gathering, and so being the working woman that I am, I had to enlist my second set of hands to do the dirty work, once I’d thought up our piece de resistance. There was so much food that we went home with enough to serve again to friends on Friday night. With fresh mussels, green salad from their garden (in February?!? What is this California or something?), and a cheese plate, it was tapas time all over again.

If you love the meaty, mushroom-meets-scallops consistency of long-cooked eggplants, then get out your pan because this is a recipe for you. It doesn’t skimp on the olive oil, making it what I’d imagine to be an authentic Sicilian caponata, perfect for soaking up soft and crusty Italian bread (we ate ours all up, hence the crackers’ debut in these photos).

Best of all? This stuff  just keeps getting better as it sits in your fridge, and can be used as an impromptu pizza topping for pitas, or just eaten straight outta the jar with a spoon. I found Bittman’s use of olive oil a tad excessive (although it was lovely how it soaked up the pigment from the peppers and eggplant) so feel free to reduce to four tablespoons if you want to experiment with a lower-fat version. Try it at least once with the full six tablespoons, though.

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smoky sweet potato soup

Who would’ve thought that after moving to Southern California from Canada I’d start finding culinary Southwestern inspiration in a book out of Victoria, B.C? Well, it happened.

I’ve been wanting the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook ever since a cold late-winter day in 2008 at my friend Lenora’s in Ottawa. In hopes of distracting myself from thinking about whether Syracuse University was going to accept me into their Masters of Journalism program, I drank coffee and flipped through this colorful book. It’s one of those cookbooks you just never get around to buying for yourself, but then when someone finally gives it to you, you wonder how you lived without it.

The masterpiece

OK, OK, so I’ve only made three things out of it so far. And two of them were soups. Hardly thorough sampling. But I’ll be the first to tell you: these soups are made of smoky chile-infused dreams. The perfect comfort meals for this prairie transplant, new to a part of the country where cliffs and cacti make up my backyard. Perfect for a place where avocados and limes daily compete for my affection. (If gin’s nearby, the latter usually wins out—especially when priced at 10 cents apiece).

You start by roasting three of the best-tasting earthy things known to eaters: Sweet potatoes, garlic, and red peppers. They’ll fill your house with aromas as they pop and spit away in the stove.

Sweet potatoes are my second-favorite root vegetable (beets have my heart). Not only because of their “superfood” status (they’re packed with fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and C), but because they are just so good. They’re the candy of the earth—would that be “bon-bon de terre”? Taste some of the syrup that leakes from the roasted ones and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (I was so excited I forgot to get out the camera…hence having to borrow this one!)

Another trick this soup taught me? Chipotle puree. Mix this stuff up once and it will give back to you for months. You’ll forsake all others: ketchup, salsa, possibly even Sriracha. (The horror!) All ya do? Buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and puree away.

addictive

good on everything

While roasting everything takes a bit of time, it’s 100% worth it. Plus, you won’t spend as much time chopping as you normally do. With this one (boringly named Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup with Chiles and Lime), most of the time is spent sitting around waiting for the roasting to finish. I recommend a cup of coffee and a book to help make this time go speedily.

Give this soup an hour of your time, and it’ll reward you with silky, smoky (I said that already, didn’t I?), sweet-tart bursts of flavor. Whether you’re smokin in the Southwest or freezing in Philly, D.C., or New York, I promise you’ll love this soup.

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