October 26, 2016 Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

dsc_8213aInspiration for the recipes at Sue’s Seasonal Palate comes from many sources. Sometimes it’s a magazine article I’ve read, an intriguing recipe from the internet or a dish I’ve recently tried in a restaurant. The latter was the case for this recipe.

Last weekend we got together with some long time friends at a popular brewpub called The Vault. It’s located in a former bank built in 1889 in the historic borough of Yardley Pennsylvania. The owners of the Vault bring their own brand of sophistication to the brewpub concept and have turned it into an experience that is unique. No deafening pop or rock music or a bank of televisions tuned to the latest sports programs, they have chosen to feature live and recorded jazz that enhances the relaxed atmosphere and is more conducive to conversation. The beer is brewed on premises and the offerings from the kitchen are made in-house or sourced locally. Both the kitchen and the brewery are open to view. Though I am more of a wine drinker I really enjoyed the Sweet Potato Ale. The menu includes a nice selection of starters along with sandwiches, interesting salads and pizzas from their wood fired oven. The menu is definitely a cut above the average pub fare and one of their appetizers made me want to recreate it at home.

Our server suggested we start off with an appetizer of buffalo cauliflower to share for the table while we were pondering our other food choices. For a brief history of the buffalo wing we only need to go back to 1964 where they originated in, no surprise here, Buffalo, New York. The story has several versions but the most popular and my favorite, is that one evening, Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar was challenged to whip up a late night snack for her son and his friends. “Mother Teressa” found some large chicken wings that had been deemed too meaty for the stockpot. Bellissimo chopped the wings into two sections, deep-fried them and tossed them with some hot sauce. She served them with celery that was part of the Anchor Bar’s antipasto and some of the house blue cheese dressing. The wings were reported to be an immediate local success and the first official Chicken Wing Day was celebrated on July 29, 1977. Over fifty years later they are a national favorite consumed everywhere from bars, to sporting venues to “competitive eating events” like the Philadelphia Wing Bowl and Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.

It wasn’t enough for cauliflower to be a substitute for mashed potatoes, couscous and even pizza crust, the versatile vegetable takes the place of chicken wings in this recipe. The Vault’s buffalo cauliflower is described on the menu as buttermilk cauliflower, house buffalo sauce, chive sour cream and the real surprise, sweet pickled celery. The calorie count for six pieces of deep-fried chicken wings at one website I looked at was 616. Though I have nothing against traditional buffalo wings I also thought this recipe was worth the somewhat healthier do-over.

Start with a large head of cauliflower and break into chicken wing size florets. I was aiming for 1½ in by 2½ inches in length, you should have 5 to 6 cups of “wings” and probably more. Some recipes I found called for the cauliflower to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted the florets to have a bit more substance so I coated the cauliflower with a simple batter of flour, milk and spices. Substitutions can be made here, almond milk for vegans, rice flour for a gluten-free diet. If you use rice flour as I did, you may need to thin the batter out a bit more.

I tried at first to dip the pieces by using the handle at the bottom of my cauliflower “wing”. This turned out to be a very messy approach., It is easier to use tongs to dip the individual pieces in the batter. Dip each piece thoroughly, lift out and allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. To minimize clean up, line the baking sheet with foil or parchment. Since several of the blogs I read mentioned excess batter clumping up and sticking to the baking sheet, I chose to place the florets on a wire rack thoroughly sprayed with Pam over the baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F, (convection heat) and bake for about twenty minutes or until golden. I flipped the pieces halfway through the baking process.

While the cauliflower is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked cauliflower and sauce, toss gently to combine. Place the cauliflower back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to crisp. Serve immediately with plain or sweet pickled celery and blue cheese dressing or sauce.

Cauliflower pieces shouldn't be too small.
Cauliflower pieces shouldn’t be too small.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Ingredients for the batter.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter. Bake until crisp.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Serves four or two very hungry  people

Ingredients

  • 1 c flour, can be all-purpose, whole wheat, brown rice etc.
  • 1 c milk, almond milk or water
  • 1 t  garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ t ground paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower,cut into florets
  • ½ c hot sauce (I used Franks Original)
  • 3 T butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray a large wire rack with cooking spray to place over the baking sheet.
  2. Combine flour, water, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Using tongs, dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Coat well, lift out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl.
  3. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the wire rack that is on top of the baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Pour evenly over cauliflower. Toss gently until cauliflower is evenly coated.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cauliflower begins to crisp, rearranging florets occasionally if needed. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing.

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January 21, 2016 Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

DSC_5726aThis is a twist on a recipe in the latest issue of Fine Cooking. In the Fine Cooking version, the scallops were tossed in a mixtue of citrus and Asian ingredients for a quick marinade. I wanted to make mine a salad so I patted the scallops dry, seared them and the marinade ingredients became the basis for an easy vinaigrette.
I love scallops for a quick meal and the jumbo sea scallops at Heller’s Seafood this week were pristine and just perfect. Wherever you shop, look for dry scallops. Wet scallops are soaked in a preservative phosphate solution. The solution preserves and whitens the scallops and causes them to absorb more water. So when you cook wet scallops they don’t brown as well or not at all because of the extra liquid. They can also have a soapy taste. Dry scallops are shucked and shipped packed on ice with no preservatives.  Therefore they have a shorter shelf life and are fresher when you buy them. Dry scallops come with a higher price tag, but they are fresher and you are not paying for water weight.

It’s fairly easy to tell the difference, wet scallops are bright white because of the phosphate solution and dry scallops are ivory or pinkish. Don’t hesitate to sniff them, the scallops should smell like the ocean.  When in doubt, ask, and if they don’t know, run! You shouldn’t be shopping there anyway.

Prepare scallops by first removing the tough abductor muscle, it peels off easily. Then I pat them dry on both sides with paper towels. I coat a non-stick skillet with a neutral oil (vegetable or canola). Be sure that your skillet will hold the scallops without crowding them, you want to sear, not steam them. I turn the heat up to high and wait for the first sizzle. I add the scallops to the pan in a clockwise fashion with any extras in the middle. That way I know what scallop has cooked the longest. Now is the hard part, cook the scallops without moving them until a little peek (lift up the spatula a bit) shows a deep golden crust. Be sure not to overcook, you want the middle to stay tender and sweet.  Two to three minutes per side will do.

Gremolata is made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest and is the traditional topping for braised veal shank or osso buco. This version takes on a definite Asian flair using cilantro, garlic, sesame seeds and lime zest. These flavors harmonize perfectly with the sweet scallops. The marinade for the scallops included mirin, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil. In case you didn’t know, mirin is a type of rice wine, like sake but mirin is sweet and has a higher alcohol content. When you are looking for sesame oil it should be the dark variety. Both mirin and dark sesame oil are readily available in the Asian section of the supermarket.  I used these flavors with a little additional honey to dress my salad greens with. I chose baby arugula, but a spring mix or baby spinach would work well too.

This dish comes together quickly, both the gremolata and the vinaigrette are easy to make. It is just important to take the time to cook the scallops correctly. This recipe can be doubled and is perfect for a first course or part of a small plates dinner.

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Don’t crowd the pan, give the scallops room to brown, too close and they will steam.

Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

Serves 2

Ingredients for the scallops

  • ½ to ¾lb dry packed sea scallops (about 6)
  • A neutral cooking oil, canola for example
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for cooking the scallops

  1. Remove the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop (some scallops are sold with the muscle already removed). If you feel any grit on the scallops, rinse them under cold water. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels; surface moisture impedes browning.
  2. Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the oil and heat until quite hot. Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is well browned and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and set them in a warm spot while you finish the other components of the recipe.

Ingredients for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  • ¼c finely chopped cilantro
  • 1T toasted sesame seeds
  • 2t finely chopped garlic
  • 1t lime zest

Directions for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  1. In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, sesame seeds, garlic and lime zest. Set aside.

Ingredients for the dressing

  • 3T mirin
  • 1t grated ginger
  • 2t fresh lime juice
  • 1t honey (or more to taste)
  • 3T sesame oil

Directions for the dressing

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together. Set aside

Final Assembly of the salad

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups of baby arugula, spring mix or baby spinach

Directions

  1. Place the greens in one medium or individual salad plates.
  2. Top with seared scallops
  3. Sprinkle gremolata on the scallops.
  4. Dress greens and scallops lightly with dressing.
  5. Serve immediately.

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October 2, 2014 Imam Bayildi

DSC_9143aImam bayildi translates roughly,”the priest fainted”. But why, was it because the eggplant dish was so delicious, did he eat too much at one sitting or was he just in shock at the amount of expensive olive oil used to make it?

One account in Turkish lore tells the story of an imam or priest, well known for his love of good food. One day the Imam announced his engagement to the daughter of a wealthy olive oil merchant. Part of her dowry included huge casks of olive oil, the size of a man, twelve in all. After the couple were married, the new bride proved to be an amazing cook. One dish in particular, eggplant cooked in olive oil, proved to be the imam’s favorite. In fact he requested the exact same dish twelve nights in a row. But the thirteenth night his favorite dish was missing from his evening meal. When asked why she didn’t make it, she told him the enormous supply from her dowry was used up. The news so shocked him that…..the priest fainted.

No matter what the story, Imam bayildi is a very well known Turkish meze, not really an appetizer but comparable to the small plate tapas dishes of Spain. Traditionally the dish is an eggplant cut down the middle, stuffed with garlic, onion, tomatoes and aromatic spices and simmered in olive oil to cover.

My goal in making this recipe was to cut back on the copious amount of olive oil but still make a flavorful dish. Rather than cook the eggplant whole in olive oil, I cut the eggplants in half, brushed the cut side with olive oil and baked it until the flesh was easy to scoop out. I combined the chopped eggplant with sauteed onion, garlic and tomato and currants. The addition of the aromatic spices, cinnamon and allspice will make your kitchen smell heavenly. I could also see the addition of feta cheese, pine nuts, even ground beef or the more traditional lamb. Serve warm or at room temperature along with a green salad for a delicious luncheon entree.

Imam Bayildi or Baked Stuffed Eggplant to Make a Priest Faint

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 medium eggplants
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onion, very thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4c chopped tomatoes
  • 5T chopped flat leafed parsley
  • 1/2t dried oregano
  • 1/4c currants
  • 1/4t ground allspice
  • 1/4t ground cinnamon
  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut several lengthwise slits in the eggplant halves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake, cut side down for about 1/2hr, until the flesh is soft and easy to scoop out. Keep oven on at same temperature.
  2. While eggplant is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Cook the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 20 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 4 tablespoons of the parsley and the oregano and simmer until almost dry, about another 5 minutes. Add the currants, allspice and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set this mixture aside.
  3. Scoop out the eggplant flesh with a spoon, leaving the skin and 1/4 inch of the lining intact. Finely chop the pulp and add it to the onion and tomato mixture. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the eggplant shells in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Fill them with the tomato onion mixture. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice. Cover and bake the eggplants for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.
  5. Serve warm or cool at room temperature.
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Ingredients, ready to go!
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Cut the eggplants in half, brush with olive oil and place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. This variety is an “Italian pink” called Dancer.

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The shells are now filled with the eggplant, onion, tomato and aromatic spice mixture and baked.

November 17, 2013 Eggplant “Pizzas”

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Joe’s not so little greenhouse set out in the garden extended our growing season for some vegetables to the latest date ever. When he brought in the last of the peppers and eggplants on Sunday I knew I needed to find a special way to use them to commemorate the end of their growing season. The peppers, for the most part were transformed into one of his favorites, stuffed peppers and for the eggplant I turned to a recipe from Julia Child.

In her 1975 cookbook, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, among personal anecdotes  and recipes for Caesar Salad (yes, Mr. Caesar Cardini actually made this tableside for a young Julia and her family), consommés, stews and apple charlotte is this gem. Tranches d’aubergine a l’italienne might put off the average cook, but eggplant pizzas, now that’s something we can all relate to. The recipe made a second appearance as miniature eggplant pizzas in her 1989 work and one of my favorite go-to cookbooks, The Way to Cook.

The classic pear shaped variety of eggplant like Black Beauty works best here. I began by cutting the eggplants crosswise into 3/4 inch planks, the skin was relatively thin so I left it on.Then I salted the slices on both sides to extract excess liquid. This is a step I would skip in the summer when the eggplants are at their freshest and not very seedy. I let the eggplants sit for about a half hour and started my sauce.

The day before I defrosted two quart bags of my roasted tomatoes, a 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes or a store bought sauce can substitute here. Step one for me is to pour off the liquid that accumulates in the bag, a little lagniappe for the chef. It’s definitely not the prettiest, but it is the best tasting tomato juice you will ever try. I sautéed one finely chopped onion and two chopped cloves of garlic until softened but not brown, about five minutes. Then the tomatoes and the rest of the liquid are added to the pan, breaking up the larger chunks of tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. When the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, I put them through a food mill to strain out most of the seeds. This results in a smoother sauce.

The eggplant slices are patted dry and lightly brushed with olive oil. I baked the eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet so that both sides would cook evenly. As Julia says “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape”. After twenty five minutes I removed the baking sheet from the oven and now set the oven to broil. I covered the slices with a generous coating of tomato sauce and sprinkled a combination of mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The “pizzas” are now returned to the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Julia suggests these as part of a vegetarian combination or arranged around a main event, be it an omelet, a steak or a roast lamb.

Eggplant pizzas would make a good snack or a light lunch with a salad. A recipe that’s vegetarian, low carb and gluten free, as always “Our Lady of the Ladle“, Julia was ahead of her time.

 

Julia Child’s Eggplant Pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2  large eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
  • 1T salt, for drawing water out of eggplant
  • 2T olive oil for brushing eggplant before roasting
  • 2 t Italian seasoning, for sprinkling on eggplant before roasting
  • 1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 c finely grated low-fat mozzarella

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes (or use 3 cups peeled and diced fresh tomatoes)
  • 1/2 t Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 t dried oregano

Directions

  1. Cut eggplant into 3/4 inch thick slices. Place eggplant pieces on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Let the eggplant sit with the salt on it for about 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. (After the eggplant sits for 15 minutes, turn on the oven to 375°F.
  2. Make the tomato sauce while the eggplant sits. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic just until it becomes softened and fragrant.   Add the diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning and oregano.
  3. Then let the sauce simmer on low until it’s thickened. Break up tomatoes with a fork while the sauce cooks. (You can add water as needed. Let sauce simmer until ready to put on eggplant slices.)
  4. After 30 minutes, pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and sprinkle tops with Italian seasoning. Place eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Roast the eggplant about 25 minutes, but “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape” as Julia says.
  5. While the eggplant roasts, combine Parmesan with mozzarella. After 25 minutes or when eggplant pieces are done, remove eggplant from the oven and turn oven setting to broil. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the top of each eggplant slice, sprinkle with thin basil slices and top with cheese blend. Put pizzas under the broiler until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
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We are still harvesting salad greens, spinach and arugula from the greenhouse.
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Cooking down the roasted tomatoes.
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Putting the cooked tomato sauce through a food mill makes a smoother sauce and eliminates most seeds.
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Doesn’t look like the stuff in a bottle, but it is the best tasting tomato juice you will find.
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Served with a simple salad of baby greens and radishes from the garden, eggplant pizzas make a delicious light lunch.

 

September 3, 2013 Eggplant Caponata revisited

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Summer is berry season and each month brings a new arrival. June is time for plump juicy strawberries. July brings succulent raspberries and blueberries. August brings one of my favorite berries, eggplant. A berry? you say. First, the members of the nightshade family, tomatoes, pepper and eggplants to name just a few, are actually fruit, not vegetables. Botanically speaking, fruit are seed bearing structures that develop from the ripened ovaries of flowers. But eggplant are not just any old fruit, they are considered berries because they are indehiscent which means they do not sprout open when ripe. With these technicalities aside, there are two burning questions that most people have when it comes to eggplant; should I salt or not? and are there male and female eggplants?

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A round up of the varieties of eggplant we grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young eggplants, picked fresh from the garden or purchased at the farmers market will not need salting. They will have thinner skin and fewer seeds. The bitterness originates in the seeds which contains nicotinic alkaloids. Did I mention tobacco is another member of the nightshade family? So the larger the eggplant, the greater the likelihood of it having more seeds. Salting, also known as degorging, is good for drawing out excess liquid from the eggplant so that it doesn’t absorb as much oil in the cooking process, but it is only successful in masking bitterness.

The male vs. female eggplant was a tale that even I fell victim to. I was surprised at the number of websites that propose the theory of male and female eggplants as fact. The story goes that a dash-shaped slit on the bottom of the fruit indicates a female eggplant and a deep round indent indicates a male. The male eggplant reportedly has fewer seeds and is more desirable. It’s debunking time again. Fruit, like eggplants develop from the female flower on the plant but have no sex of their own.

So, how do you choose the best eggplant?  Look for eggplant that have smooth, bright, shiny skin. When you press on the skin it should spring right back. Select eggplant that are heavy for their size, indicating younger fruit. The calyx, the green leaves at the stem end should be fresh and green, not dried out and brown.

Our garden in the month of August yields an abundance of the nightshade family, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. While our tomato harvest is better than last year, this has proven to be not the best year for eggplants and peppers. I wanted to take advantage of the eggplants we did grow and make one of our favorites, caponata.

I posted a different recipe for caponata last year, this is one from my catering days.  A great room temperature dish, caponata always tastes better the second day, after the flavors had the chance to meld. It is an agro dolce, a sweet and sour dish from Sicily that shows the influence of North African flavors on the region. Serve on grilled baguette slices and garnish with toasted pine nuts and chopped flat leafed parsley.

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Eggplant Caponata

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 1/3c olive oil
  • 3c diced eggplant
  • 1 1/2c chopped onion
  • 1c thinly sliced celery
  • 2c chopped tomatoes
  • 3T minced garlic
  • 2T tomato paste
  • 1/4c red wine vinegar
  • 1c sliced green or black olives
  • 1/3c capers, well drained
  • 1 or 2 anchovies, drained and chopped
  • 1T sugar
  • 1/2t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2c minced flat leafed parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
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A lot of chopping but the dish comes together quickly after that.

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Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the eggplant and sauté until somewhat soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the onions, celery, tomatoes and garlic and cook for another 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the remaining ingredients and toss lightly. Refrigerate until ready to serve, preferably the next day. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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September 19, 2012 Roasted Eggplant Caponata

The days are getting shorter, there is a chill in the morning air, only three days until the official beginning of autumn. Our summer vegetables are on the wane and this morning I harvested some of the last eggplants, peppers, fennel and tomatoes of the season. The sweet and sour flavors of eggplant caponata would be the right contrast to the richness of the king salmon we were having for dinner.
Caponata is a dish native to Sicily by way of the Arabs (then called the Saracens)  who ruled the island from the ninth to the eleventh century. Along with citrus fruits, pasta and eggplants, just to name a few, the Saracens brought the sweet and sour flavor combination to Sicily, the sour coming from vinegar and sweet from sugar or honey.  Among several theories, the word caponata came from the Sicilian dialect, capunata, the name for a sailor’s dish of a biscuit steeped in oil and vinegar, served with chopped vegetables.
The vegetables in my caponata were the “last gasp” of certain varieties we were growing. I used lavender-white Asian Bride  and magenta colored Beatrice eggplant, both ideal because of their thin skin (no peeling required), some small yellow Admiral peppers, and  a red Anaheim pepper that had just a little heat. Fennel isn’t typically an ingredient in caponata, but I thought the slight licorice flavor would add to the sweetness. The most time consuming part of the recipe is the hand chopping of the vegetables, a food processor is definitely not the right choice here. Unlike most of the recipes I make with eggplant, I salted the eggplant to eliminate any bitter flavors from these plants that had been on the vine for a while. Salting also prevents the eggplant from absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy. I decided to roast the vegetables in this recipe is to keep the olive oil to a minimum. I cut the vegetables a bit smaller than I would usually since I was using it as a topping for fish. Caponata is also wonderful scooped up with a pita, in a sandwich and as a topping for pasta. It is best made a day ahead so the flavors have time to blend. Caponata keeps about a week in the refrigerator, if it lasts that long.

Eggplant Caponata

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1 medium eggplant or a combination of smaller eggplants to equal about 1 1/2lbs, unpeeled, and trimmed
  • 3 ribs of celery cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 small red onion cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 small yellow pepper cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 small red pepper cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 small fennel bulb cut into 1/2 inch dice (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled plum tomatoes with juices or 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1T tomato paste
  • 2-3T Pomegranate red wine vinegar
  • 1-2t granulated sugar or honey
  • 2 anchovy filets, minced
  • 1/3 c green olives, pitted and slivered
  • 3T drained and rinsed balsamic capers
  • 2T chopped Italian parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F. Place racks in the top and bottom shelves of the oven.
  2. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a bowl, sprinkle with a tablespoon of  kosher salt. Spread the cubes on a baking sheet that has been lined with a paper towel. Allow cubes to sit for one hour. Pat cubes dry with paper towel and remove any excess salt. Do not rinse.
  3. Place the cubes in a bowl and toss with 1-2T of olive oil. Place cubes on a baking sheet, spread them out evenly, crowded vegetables will steam, not roast. Set aside. In another bowl, toss the celery, onion, fennel and peppers with another tablespoon or more of olive oil. Spread on another baking sheet, making sure that the vegetables are spread out evenly and not crowded.
  4. Place vegetables in preheated oven and cook for about 5 minutes. With a spatula, loosen them from the baking sheet to promote even browning and rotate the baking sheets, top and bottom as well as front and back. Continue to roast in the oven until vegetables are softened and browned around the edges. Start checking the pan after 5 minutes.
  5. Allow vegetables to cool on baking sheet. In a medium saute pan cook tomatoes and their liquid. Add tomato paste, red wine vinegar, sugar or honey and anchovies (if using) and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the sweet and sour flavor as desired.  Add the cooled vegetables, toss gently but thoroughly to combine. Add chopped olives, capers and chopped parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Set aside to allow flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature as accompaniment to fish or chicken or with crusty bread or crostini.

 

May 8, 2012 Seared Scallops with Spinach

 Scallops were a perennial favorite on my catering menu . Whether served wrapped in smoky bacon and served with a dill horseradish mayonnaise, or as a scallop puff on a crostini accented with dill and lemon, they were quick to disappear from the hors d’oeurve tray.  I learned early in my days as a caterer the importance of having a reputable seafood merchant. I knew of instances where the smaller sweeter (and more expensive) bay scallops were actually punched out of larger sea scallops. Other “scallops” were not scallops at all but were cut out of shark steaks.

 True scallops are sold in two different ways, wet or dry. Dry scallops have not been treated with water or chemicals, which gives them a shorter shelf life. They will range in color from vanilla to almost a peachy color and have a sweet briny aroma.  Wet scallops have been treated with a sodium phosphate solution that helps the scallops retain water for a longer period of time. It also gives them an unnatural uniformly white color.  The phosphate in the solution is an additive that is used in soap products.  So when a wet scallop is cooked it leaches a milky, slightly soapy solution. When you are at the seafood counter it is always best to ask if the scallops are wet or dry, and if they aren’t sure, run, don’t walk away from that store!

In the past ten years the addition of seared scallops became a part of my catering repetoire and is still my favorite way to prepare them now. Wet scallops will not work for this preparation because of the excessive water they exude. Before you cook scallops detach the tough adductor muscle, it peels off very easily.  High heat is the best way to cook scallops and be sure they are as dry as possible.  The outside of the scallop will have a beautiful caramelized crust while the inside is creamy soft, not tough.  I chose to serve it this evening on a bed of our fresh garden spinach.

Garden spinach ready to harvest.

Seared Scallops with Spinach

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 cups well washed spinach
  • 2 small leeks, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 to 1 lb fresh dry scallops purchased from a reputable seafood dealer
  • Cooking oil that tolerates high temperature cooking-canola, grapeseed etc.
  • 1T butter and 1T olive oil
  • 6-8 cups well washed fresh spinach

Directions

  1. Clean the spinach by filling your sink with cold water. Soak the spinach to remove dirt and sand. The dirt and sand will sink to the bottom and the spinach will float to the top. Remove spinach to a colander while you drain the sink and clean out any dirt.  Repeat the soaking process several times, cut off any large stems and spin in salad spinner to remove excess water. Set aside.
  2. Pat scallops as dry as possible with paper towel or clean dishcloth
  3. Season well with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, if you are fussy, then it should be white pepper
  4. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick pan that will hold all the scallops comfortably. Sometimes I use a brush to be certain the whole pan is coated. Be sure the pan is hot before adding scallops, a drop of water should bead up on contact.
  5. Add scallops, flat side down and cook undisturbed for several minutes, the length of cooking will depend on the size of the scallop, 2-4 minutes per side is a good guideline. Flip scallops and brown on the other side. they will still be somewhat firm to the touch. Transfer scallops to a platter and keep warm.
  6. Wipe residue out of pan, return to medium high heat. When pan is warm, add butter and oil.
  7. Add chopped leek and garlic to the melted butter and oil. Saute until leek is softened but not browned. Add spinach by the handfuls and saute until the spinach is cooked down.