Rich’s Caponata (thanks, Dad!)

Many of you know that cooking wasn’t my mother’s passion. But my father came from a long line of wonderful cooks. In fact, it’s impossible for me to remember my father without thinking of food.  Because he was a typical 50’s dad, he didn’t end up in the kitchen much when we were kids, but he was the ultimate hunter/gatherer. He loved his vegetable garden – he grew the largest zucchini in town (I was 21 before I realized zucchini were only supposed to be 4-5″ long, not the 24-36″ size he loved). He was an avid fisherman. He introduced to clamming in Pismo Beach at a very early age!

Dad always told my mother that he was going to take over all cooking duties when he retired – something my mother completely supported. And he started collecting recipes from many different sources. He always told me he was going to write a cookbook for my brother, my sisters and me. Dad was absolutely in love with bizarre ingredients. Today, he’d rival Andrew Zimmern and have his own show on the cooking or travel channels.

Unfortunately, Dad never made it to retirement. A few months after his passing, when we were putting away some of his belongings, I found his file of recipes. I laughed and cried my way through his folder of “Hot recipes from Sumatra” and his folder on “Tripe and other organ meats.” That year, I compiled the cookbook he was never able to complete and gave it to my family. “Rich’s Recipes” was a huge hit, although I don’t think my siblings actually prepared many of the recipes in there. Me? I take after my dad. I worked my way through most of “Tripe and other organ meats,” but I did put my foot down on the Sumatran recipes.

Here is one of my favorites from his cookbook: Eggplant Caponata. Miss you, Dad.
RICH’S CAPONATA Pair with Morovino Barbera or Dolcetto

2 medium eggplant, stems trimmed
2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
2 large red, yellow or green bell peppers
1 large onion
2 large ripe plum tomatoes, seeded
½ c. red wine vinegar
2 t. sugar
1 bay leaf
½ c. green olives stuffed with sundried tomatoes (or other green or black olive-stuffed is better)
¼ c. olive oil
1 ½ t. salt
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled, but whole
1 large bulb fennel (optional, but it really adds to the dish)

Fire up the oven to 400 degrees and let it preheat. Cut eggplant into 1” cubes. Place in a colander with 1 ½ t. salt. Let stand for 20 minutes to draw off the liquid, rinse lightly, drain and pat dry with paper towels. Cut zucchini into 1” cubes. Cut red pepper into 1” cubes (notice a trend here?). Cut the fennel into (say it with me) 1” dice. Cut the onion into large dice. Place all cut veggies into an 11 x 17” roasting pan.  In a blender, food processor or big measuring cup with your stick blender, whirl the tomatoes, vinegar and sugar until smooth. Add the tomato mixture, the olives, the garlic and the bay leaf to the veggies. Drizzle on the olive oil and stir well to coat.

Put the roasting pan with the veggies et. al. Into the oven. Pop your favorite movie into the DVD player, cuz these guys are gonna roast for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Stir every half an hour or so – when you get up to get a glass of wine! The caponata is ready when the veggies are very soft and most of the liquid is evaporated. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

You can make this dish ahead – cover and chill it for up to a week. How to use it?? As an appetizer with garlic toast (ummmmm). As a vegetable, either warm, chilled or room temperature. Or, in my classic family tradition, spread a big dollop between two pieces of rye bread, top with Asiago cheese and eat it as a sandwich!

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