Sunday, October 13, 2013


When I go to Otto and I'm not in the pizza mood, I'll order a bunch of antipasti. My faves are the caponata, cauliflower, and lentils. Somehow I managed to make them look and taste quite similar to the restaurant home! Truth be told, I made these all weeks ago, but the Breaking Bad finale clearly threw me off my blogging game. Or that's the convenient excuse I'm going with.

Caponata is a Sicilian cooked eggplant salad with a distinct sweet and sour flavor profile called agrodolce. Typically the agro (sour) part comes from vinegar and the dolce (sweet) part from sugar. There are also several variations that may or may not include celery, capers, olives, pine nuts, raisins, or currants. I like a variety of textures so threw in most of the options except for the raisins. Because they are gross. I used Mario Batali's recipe as a base and was surprised to find a touch of cocoa powder. The balsamic vinegar also adds a bit more richness than a red wine vinegar, which is often called for in recipes. I was super happy with the way mine turned out. 

The cauliflower here is simply roasted with some distinctive flavors added in at the end. Mario torches his under the broiler, 4-inches from the flame, but I have a crappy rental apartment oven so...yeah. Roasting seemed like a better idea. This a great way to try cauliflower especially if you are not a fan, possibly because you grew up on plain frozen florets or plain raw florets dunked into ranch dressing on a veggie tray. Not that I know anything about that.

Eggplant Caponata

1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1⁄2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or to taste 
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 1 1⁄4 pounds each)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (14-1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped green olives
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, pine nuts, and red pepper flakes, and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until the onion is translucent. 

2. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa powder, and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, olives, and capers and bring to a boil. 

3. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more, or until the mixture has thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool and serve at room temperature. It's best made one day ahead to let the flavors develop. Will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Serves 8.

Cauliflower with Olives and Capers

1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed, cored, and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Maldon or other flaky sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives (or other favorite olive)
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 tablespoons lemon agrumato oil, or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil in a large bowl and season with the salt and pepper. Spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, for 30 - 40 minutes, or until lightly charred in spots and just tender.

2. Return the cauliflower to the bowl, add the olives, capers, red pepper flakes, if using, and lemon oil, and toss to mix well. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve, or let stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour to bring out the flavors. Serves 6.