I recently read about Caponata’s sweet and sour flavour but for me that does this dish no justice and conjures up images of a greasy Chinese, paling in comparison to this ‘aubergine stew’ which serves up some of the best Sicily has to offer. I do admit that the Arab influenced combination of aubergines, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar does have a sweet and sour contrast but it is much subtler and well-balanced.
Like most classic Italian dishes there are 1001 variations and you could spend hours trawling through books and the internet deciding on one. I used a mix of a few recipes including Carluccio’s one which seems to be quite well regarded but whose cooking time I think is too short as I really wanted this to have a compote texture. Other recipes add spice or sweetness through chilli or raisins . Personal preference and how you will serve it will probably dictate that. Being used as everything from a pickle to a main dish it has a lot of scope. The idea to serve it with seafood came from Wikipedia as before I hadn’t seen anyone suggest it as a side to fish and I thought that cod and mussels would go well due to one’s quite subtle taste and the others bolder, salty one. I would probably also use clams next time to add another element to the dish.
To quote Jamie Oliver (who also has a seemingly good recipe) it is really important to try and get aubergines which have few seeds, these are normally firmer, and also not to be tempted to cut the chunks too small or they will take on too much oil.
As with most stew-like things, its flavours improve overnight so make it the day before and whether you are using it as part of this dish or as a salad it will be worth the wait. There looks like there is a lot to this dish but it is SO simple, plus if the caponata is done the day before you only need to reheat it and meanwhile prep the seafood. You could serve this in summer or winter maybe adding some more spice and sweetness for extra warmth in winter .
serves 4 with plenty of Caponata left over for the next day!
1kg aubergines, in 2cm dice
500g celery and their leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes
350g green pitted olives
40g salted capers
40ml red wine vinegar (I used a good sherry vinegar which worked really well)
1tbsp caster sugar
400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes
100ml olive oil
- Salt the aubergines in a colander for 15mins, meanwhile prep the other ingredients. Rinse well and dry with kitchen towel.
- Heat most of the oil in a large casserole dish and on a high heat brown the aubergines in batches. Remove and set aside. Adding more oil to pan if too dry.
- Reduce the heat to low and wait for olive oil to cool down a bit before adding the onions and celery with their leaves too. Soften for 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic for 2 minutes before returning the aubergines and adding the tomatoes, olives and capers (reserve a few olives and capers to add at the end for a different texture and to garnish plate). Season and cook gently on a low heat for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile mix the vinegar and sugar together in a small pan, bring to the boil and remove from heat. This should hold a pleasant sweet and sour taste, if not add either to your preference. Add to the stew and cook for a further hour stirring occasionally.
- 5 minutes before the end add the olives, capers, basil (reserving some leaves) and cooked mussels (see below) and check seasoning.
4 fillets with skin
- Heat the oil until smoking in a heavy bottomed pan, salt the fillets well on both sides add skin side down and sear on high heat for 2 minutes before carefully turning over for another minute. Remove and set aside.
1 glass white wine
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered
- Clean mussels thoroughly under cold water using a small knife or hard brush. Discard broken shells and close open ones by tapping fairly hard 3 times with the back of a knife, if not closing discard them.
- Bring wine to boil in large pan with garlic and a splash of water over a high heat, add mussels and cover with lid, shaking the pan well every 30 seconds until all the shells are open. Drain and discard unopened shells.
- Remove half of the mussels from the shells (optional) and add to Caponata 5 minutes before finished cooking.
- combine parsley and lemon
Adapted from the Scott’s of London dish
I served this dish as a starter as part of a 6-course dinner, it wasn’t originally planned but the sea urchins for my planned starter weren’t available at the market (typical having just read an article on having a plan B for dinner parties and thinking I would never need one because I lived next to Europe’s largest food market).
Comparing this effort to my last one showed how much more refined I had become in my cooking style. Using these ingredients it is easy to overuse one aspect and unbalance the flavours of the dish so less really is more:
- A fresh and delicately flavoured shellfish
- An oily and intensely flavoured chorizo
- A salty and easily spoilt green
This dish really does exhibit how the best quality ingredients can make a dish. The chorizo required won’t be found next to the sausages in your local supermarket, it needs to be a semi-dry one. I chose a chorizo from ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’ (the pig used to make the world’s best ham – it really is the best money can buy and goes a long way, 3 sausages between 7 people). So make the effort to go to the nearest deli in search of them or try ordering from Brindisa in London. The fat rendered creates such a rich and simple sauce so have some bread handy to mop it up.
Also this is great for dinner parties as the clams can be prepared hours in advance and re-heated in the oven when ready to serve.
Razor Clams with Chorizo and Samphire
1kg of razor clams
half a glass of white wine
small handful of parsley
3 garlic cloves
3 semi-dry chorizos cut into 1/4″ thick coins
handful of samphire/ sea asparagus
Oven at 180C
- Rinse the clams under cold water for 10 minutes until clean.
- Heat the wine, garlic, parsley and salt in a saucepan wide enough to lay the clams.
- When boiling add clams, shake pan and cover for 2 minutes or until shells open
- Remove Clams, run under cold water to cool and clean. To clean, remove the darker looking sac from the mussel and discard, reserving the flesh and shell
- Lay the shells on a roasting tray, one or two per person and replace the flesh (I put two clams in one shell)
- Drizzle each clam with a teaspoon of stock water left in the pan and place on middle shelf in oven for 10 minutes
- Meanwhile, add chorizo coins to a frying pan on medium-low heat (NO OIL) render the fat, stirring occasionally and lowering the flame if starting to burn
- When fat rendered and chorizo cooked (around 8 minutes) remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. To the oil left in the pan add the butter and stir with a small whisk over a medium heat until well combined and thickened
- To serve: Remove the clams from the oven and plate accordingly, scatter over chorizo, dip samphire into sauce and place then drizzle over sauce as desired.
A few weeks ago I returned from my first ever skiing holiday, I had loved every part of it from the beautiful scenery to the wonderful sense of freedom derived from throwing oneself down a mountain. But after my 8 days there I seriously needed some sunshine and fresh food.
I strolled through the Mercado Central the next morning amongst what seemed the freshest, most colourful produce I’d ever seen and was drawn by a huge mound of lemons. The yellow page of The River Cafe Cook Book sprung to mind and I knew what I’d be having for lunch.
A dish that fills the air with unctuous parmigiana, fresh citrus and basil, ticking all the boxes for a fresh summer dish
Spaghetti al Limone
Adapted from the fantastic River Cafe Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers
Juice of 3 lemons, zest of 1-2
150ml ml olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Small bunch fresh basil chopped
Drop the pasta in boiling salted water (around a 1:5 ratio of pasta:water), stirring once submerged, leave to cook.
In an empty screw-top jar add the juice of the lemons and the olive oil, shake vigorously until well combined and emulsified.
Pour this mix into a new saucepan and stir in the grated parmesan (reserving a small amount to garnish) until thick, creamy consistency. Season well.
When al dente, pick spaghetti straight from water using pasta tongs, hold 3 seconds for some water to drain off then add to the saucepan containing lemon oil.
Once spaghetti added, place this saucepan on a low-med heat, stir well so pasta well coated whilst adding zest and basil. Serve.
So the time has come for me to enter the blogging stratosphere, more precisely the well established food blogging world. Many an hour I have passed on food blogs around the web, getting inspired and getting hungry; and many an hour I have passed in the kitchen re-creating what I have seen. So much so I thought I could give it a go myself. So here I will be posting my food ideas, recipes and thoughts and hope to give to those that find this blog a little of the joy that I receive from food.
I am a UK student currently fortunate enough to have spent the past year studying in Valencia, Spain, overlooking one of the world’s greatest food markets – the Mercado Central. It has been a great inspiration and opened my eyes to how good food can actually be; the importance of eating with the seasons; of quality produce; of relationships with suppliers and how it can bring people together in a magical way. Not long remains of my time in Valencia, but I will try to convey my experiences to readers through seasonal Mediterranean cooking in the time I have left there and adjusting to the kitchen and food availability back on home soil.
MW Kitchen opens its doors…