October 31, 2010

Just in time

I blinked and October all but disappeared. It came in one colorful burst of activity leaving as abruptly as it entered. Starting tomorrow it’s going to be November and I’m so not ready for it to be November.   Although the fact that my freezer is filled to capacity with roasted tomatoes, hot pepper paste, pesto, applesauce and eggplant caponata suggests that perhaps I’m more prepared for grey November skies than I thought. Knowing that I can now conjure the aromas of a warm September afternoon by simply defrosting some pesto makes the whirlwind that was October ever so worth it. Still, the final push to get these lovely tastes of early autumn frozen in time has left me feeling breathless and even a bit dazed.

I’m particularly excited about the eggplant caponata. Tangy with a slight sweetness, pungent and just a little crunchy this is one dish that leaves your taste buds singing. I’ve never met an eggplant that I didn’t want to take home to turn into something special.

It is surprising then, that a few weeks ago was the first I had heard of Great Grandma Tocco’s eggplant caponata. But hear about it I did, (from my mother who made it without me!) and I raced to find a couple of eggplants that hadn’t yet been exposed to the cold New England frost. 

I made it just in time to bid a cheerful farewell to October has she made her hasty exit.

Sicilian Eggplant Caponata
Adopted from Mamma Mia Italian Cookbook: The Home Book of Italian Cooking

2 large eggplants, cubed
1 TBLS salt
¾ cup good quality olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 can plum tomatoes, drained
A generous ½ cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
¼ cup capers
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 TBLS sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cube your eggplant, salt it and let stand for 2 hours. Squeeze dry with a towel.

Heat your oil and sautee the eggplant until golden brown. Remove from pot with slotted spoon.

Add onions to the oil and let soften for about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes, olives and celery and sauté for another 15 minutes.

Return eggplant to the pot and add the capers.

In a separate pot heat the vinegar, add the sugar and let it dissolve.

Pour the warm vinegar over the eggplant and vegetables, cover and cook slowly for 20 minutes over medium heat.

Serve warm with a crusty loaf of bread.

October 10, 2010

Suitcases and Sausages

May I have your attention please? Nonna has arrived. With frozen sausages, ricotta, homemade cannoli shells and oregano all packed in her suitcase (I’m serious); she has been flown in to cook for that annual party I’ve told you about. More importantly, she’s here to spend some quality family time with the Kostecki’s.

Yesterday we bundled her up against the crisp autumn weather, and despite the small craft warning we put her into the boat and we all enjoyed the New England coastline.  The afternoon ended with steamers and lobsters in celebration of my dad’s birthday.

Today Tom and I spent the afternoon preparing our little apartment for Nonna’s inspection. I even ironed the linens. Honestly that was more for my mom’s benefit than Nonna’s- last time my mom came to visit and my tablecloth was wrinkled she got out my iron and did it herself. 

And there won’t be time for ironing during this visit. I have to bring Nonna to my neighborhood farmer’s market so that she can have a word with my veal guy and taste the cheese stand’s homemade ricotta to see if I have finally found ricotta in Massachusetts that warrants Nonna’s approval. There’s a reason she gets on a plane with frozen ricotta and sausages from Detroit.  They’re just better there. 

So, I bet you think that I’m now going to give you a recipe for Italian sausages right? Sorry. This week I had such success roaming the farmer’s market in search for the leafiest, greenest vegetables available that I just have to share with you a different family favorite: Fried cauliflower.  

I don’t think too many people are used to eating cauliflower this way, but I strongly encourage you to try it.  If you get a really leafy one such as the one seen above you could try sautéing the greens with some olive oil and garlic and serving them over penne with Parmesan cheese and hot pepper flakes. That’s what my Grandma Chinni would do.

Fried Cauliflower

I never realized how significant cauliflower is to the Italian diet. Throughout my childhood my mom would make this dish during the fall and winter seasons but I always just assumed it was a random recipe that she had stumbled upon. Come to find out that this in fact a Nonna recipe and that cauliflower is a prominent player in Italian cuisine.

1 head of cauliflower cut into into florets
Corn oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Par-boil the cauliflower florets until just fork tender. Maybe five minutes.

Heat up the corn oil so it covers the surface of your non-stick pan.

Salt and pepper your flour. Douse the par-boiled cauliflower with the flour.

Gently place in the pan and fry until golden and crisp. Sprinkle with kosher salt and enjoy!