One quick announcement before we move on to Caponata. I am THRILLED to announce that I will be teaching a Food Photography workshop at The Pantry at Delancey in September. I’ll go through my process and we’ll have plenty of time to shoot together so that you walk away feeling inspired and more confident behind the lens. Please come!
Last night we made it official: It’s picnic season. Roman grumpily stumbled out of bed from his nap, around 4. By then the picnic was made and the rest of us were ready to head to the park.
I can’t decide what I love most about picnics. Could it be the fact that I don’t have to sweep up crumbs or scrape dried food off the floor? Quite possibly. Or maybe it’s the simple act of eating outside where the gleeful song of the birds provides the meal’s soundtrack and the falling pink petals of the cherry blossom perfumes the air adding a sweet scent to every bite. That could be. It could also be that my favorite meal is one in which a slice of crusty bread replaces the need for a fork.
It is for this season that my minds turns to recipes that will easily pack up, can be eaten at room temperature (or in this case, outdoor temperature), and doesn’t require the need for extraneous packing, i.e. utensils, plates, etc. Oh and it must also taste amazing.
Our first picnic food of the year is Caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish that has as many variations as proud Sicilian grandmothers. The basic idea remains the same – it is loaded with eggplant and blended with sweet, sour, and savory flavors. A touch of cocoa and cinnamon gives this dish a rich brick color and a familiar sweetness that is unrecognizable as typical baking ingredients but welcomed as a way of soothing the heat and mellowing the sour. Most importantly Caponata fits perfectly onto slices of crusty baguette.
And with that I welcome you to picnic season (now I understand that many of you have already welcomed this warm weather season, but I ask you to celebrate with us Pacific North-westerners who have just recently seen our first multiple days of sunshine in a row – we are downright giddy over here).
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2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
¾ cup Newman’s Own Balsamic Dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, medium diced
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup roughly chopped golden raisins
1 teaspoon hot chili flakes (or more if you want more heat)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1 baguette sliced slightly on the bias (looks prettier that way)
In a large bowl add the eggplant and ½ cup of dressing. Stir to coat and let marinate for 10 minutes. Meanwhile in a large saute pan caramelize the onion with 2 tbl olive oil until deep golden, about 10 minutes over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the pine nuts, chopped raisins, and chili flakes. Saute and stir to combine. The gentle heat of the chili flakes should release possibly causing a sneeze, or two. Cook that for about 3 minutes then add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to saute until the eggplant starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme, tomato paste, water, and remaining ¼ cup dressing. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes. The eggplant should give up some of it’s moisture so that it just starts to loose it’s shape. Add the salt and carefully taste for flavor.
*This post was part of an ad campaign in association with Newman’s Own. But the words and recipe are mine. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t love it and think that you’d love it too.