What to do with the glorious bounty that is Summer from the gardens? Whether you get a CSA, go to your local Farmer’s Market, have your own garden or just shop for local and seasonal goods at the supermarket, Summer has a lot of options. Right now there is a lot of zucchini (I kept it to only 4 plants in the garden so not to get too bogged down, but then we get a bunch in the CSA! Zucchini everywhere – we’ve been shredding and freezing it for later sauce and Fall breads, and just slicing it lengthwise and broiling or grilling it a bit to carmelize and eating it with everything), tomatoes, and eggplant is coming in. Fresh basil is abounding, cucumbers, green beans, early/mid-season and fingerling potatoes, peppers of all kinds/shapes/colors/spices, etc…Josh’s Panzanella is a good use of fresh ingredients, as well as just a mixed grill of veggies and/or without meats, simple salads with local feta and pan-fried scallops or shrimps.
Salad Season, for sure. We have never been salad dressing type of people (too many preservatives/fillers/busyness) and for a long time if we went out to lunch (those days are over for awhile) Duende would ask for her ‘favorite special’ dressing if she had to choose and go into this elaborate description of essentially vinaigrette for the poor server – a good quality olive oil, a lovely appropriate vinegar (we love rice vinegars, red or white wine vinegars, sometimes balsamic, or lemon juice, etc), maybe a little dried or fresh herb, S&P, shake in a mason jar to emulsify – dressing. My favorite salad is more of a Fall salad (when the buttery greens really come back into season) – roasted beets, pan-braised boneless pork chops, on a bed of greens and sliced crispy cukes with a rice/lemon/or white wine vinaigrette mixed with the meat juices poured over the meat/beets, and toasted pecans or pumpkin seeds, with soft goat cheese or feta, and if I’m really feeling decadent – homemade croutons. Never fails to please me.
However, this is not that. This is something soft and sexy and savory that you can throw into the crockpot and leave for awhile or do on the grill or even fill the dutch oven and put into the firepit (the latter is a lovely fantasy of ours – we just got a 10qt cast iron camping dutch oven for just this sort of amazing velvetiness that a lick of fire brings to a meal). To be honest, when I made this I threw a bone-in pork shoulder (just rubbed with S&P) after browning some of the vegetables in my counter roaster (the crockpot is good and we’ll talk about that, but for a little caramelization on both veg and meat, the counter roaster is fantastic and more efficient that the whole oven on, in the heat of Summer). But this Caponata would have been just as super delicious and protein-rich without the meat. And has lots of subtle variations to make it your own – could add diced celery or fennel to this, as well. This has a Provencal Ratatouille feel but then makes a swift and stunning Sicilian turn near the end. This is great to make ahead – gets even better with sitting (can cover, refrigerate at least 8 hours – or freeze for later meals, bring to room temperature or warm on medium before serving, leftovers are excellent). Serve with crusty bread or on a bed of rice or Fregola/Sardinian/Israeli/Pearl couscous or as a side with Grilled Fish/ Roast Pork or Lamb, or just on a wide spoon with a lovely pink wine.
- 3-4 long thin Eggplants (or 2 Lg Italian – though I find them to not be as sweet – they are bread for heartier dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana, this is better for those interesting lavender/pink/white round or long eggplants you admire at the Farmer’s Market), cut into 1″ chunks
- 3 young long thin mix of Yellow Squash and Zucchini (again, save the lunkers for baking with sauce and cheese, or as substitute for Parmigiana, or as guilty-pleasure frying discs), cut into 1″ chunks
- Olive oil (up to a 1/4 cup)
- 5-6 medium ripe Tomatoes of any color (or a combo of sizes to equal that – we freeze a lot of rainbow cherry and medium tomatoes for these kinds of dishes, too, and in the height of heirloom tomato season we slice them thick and roast them at 250 degrees for a couple of hours with whole garlic cloves/herbs/S&P/generous olive oil until they are deeply caramelized – cool – freeze – in this dish I added a small bag (about a cup & 1/2) of these which really boosted the sexy factor), halved or whole if frozen
- 2 large fresh Onions with greens, separate, chopped coarsely
- 4-5 large whole peeled cloves Garlic (halved if super big)
- 1 cup drained Green Greek Olives (pitted or not is up to your taste, could also use Kalamata or mixed Greek Olives, if with pits I would ‘crack’ – take the flat blade of a big knife to whack the olives and then use)
- 1/4 cup drained Capers
- 1/2 cup Raisins (golden, Sultana, crimson, Thompson)
- 1/2 cup toasted Pine Nuts or Pepitas (shelled Pumpkin Seeds)
- 1/4 cup White or Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp organic Sugar
- 3/4 cup whole raw Almonds, lightly toasted
- Sea Salt & Black Pepper (to taste)
- 1/2 cup fresh Basil, minced (I shove my herbs into a coffee cup and chop with kitchen shears)
There is something special about caramelized eggplant and zucchini – it really brings out the sweet and savory in both (and truly the only way I can stand eggplant, just thin strips of almost crispy eggplant roasted with olive oil and sea salt send me to dreamy places whereas thick slabs of soft Italian eggplant semi-repulse me) – so, it is not necessary but preferable to brown these two a bit before chucking them into the crockpot (if using) – if using a dutch oven or counter roaster or grill, this step will already be in place.
So, in pot of choice add 2-3 Tbsp Olive Oil, Eggplant, Onions (sans greens) and Zucchini and brown on Medium-High. When there are deep golden bits (transfer to crockpot) add Tomatoes, Onion Greens, and Garlic (it is here where I nestle a roast on the bottom of the roaster with the vegetables surrounding it – can brown Roast first on all sides, too if desired, roast on 400 degrees with cover for 2 hours, temp and continue to roast until desired temp). If just using veg, roast on 325 for 1 & 1/2 hours.
Then add Olives, Capers, Raisins, Pine Nuts, Vinegar, Almonds, Sugar (I know, sounds crazy – just do it), cook for 10-15 minutes.
Season with S&P, a little more Olive Oil and Vinegar if needed, add fresh Basil and serve!