Sunday, March 13, 2011


While waiting for my plane to board in Seattle last weekend, I wandered into the airport bookstore. The latest edition of Saveur caught my eye. The cover story: Oh, Sicily! Given that I'm about to embark on a blissful 4-week trip to Italy, I couldn't help but pick up a copy for plane reading. To prepare my taste buds for the magic that is to come, today I tried one of the recipes: caponata (subtitle: sweet and sour eggplant).

Eggplant is squarely not in season currently in California. If I hadn't already been aware, the $7 price tag on the 4 unassuming Japanese eggplants I procured from the local grocer would have clued me in. I didn't care. The combination of ingredients in this recipe sounded too good to wait for. I had originally been planning on consuming the caponata with some chickpeas I have on hand. But one bite made clear the need to pair it with some sort of rustic bread.

So I strapped on my shoes for a walk in the drizzle to pick up a loaf. I'm glad that I did. Caponata on a thick slice of olive bread... mi piace (molto, molto). The dish is at once tangy, salty, and sweet. I'm enjoying another slice right now along with a big glass of red wine and a bottle of San Pellegrino. The whole house smells delicious.

While already ecstatic for the trip, if tasting these lovely flavors is so magical in my own kitchen, I can't even fathom how amazing the flavors will be when consumed in Italia. So, with that, cole's kitch is going to be closed for a bit. But don't fret: I plan to return with much inspiration.

If your travels have taught you any treasures in Italy that I simply must see (or eat!), please leave me a comment. My itinerary at this point includes Bologna, Sicily (Taormina), the Amalfi Coast, and Rome, plus an unplanned week of adventure that is yet to be determined.

No trips to Italy in your near future? Here's how you can bring a bit of Sicily to you:

Serves 6

a lot of olive oil*
2 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. tomato paste, thinned with 1/4 c. water
1 can crushed tomatoes
6 oz. green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. sugar**
2 Tbps. finely chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/2 c. finely shredded basil***
2 Tbsp. pine nuts****

*The recipe calls for 3 cups of olive oil. While frying the eggplant does take quite a bit, I think I ended up using about 1 cup in total.
**I substituted agave nectar for sugar.
***I forgot to pick up basil; the dish was still amazing without it.
****I toasted the pine nuts.

Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.

Pour off all but 1/4 c. oil and reserve for another use. Return skillet to heat, add onions and celery, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to bowl with eggplant, along with basil and pine nuts. Mix together. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

I recommend serving over crusty bread.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

garlicky cannellini bean soup

Tonight, I was in the mood for vegetables. My diet lately hasn't included quite enough of them. My birthday weekend included a lot of great food: manicotti with bechamel sauce, my mom's delicious mac & cheese (with bacon!), cheesecake... cheese, in fact, has been a staple ingredient in my diet. Which would be fine if this were just been a recent trend; however it's been going on for quite some time now. Given my upcoming trip to Italy where cheese are pasta are sure to be abundant, I've decided to give my diet a bit of a revamp over the next couple of weeks left leading up to it. My focus will be on vegetables.

It's been a chilly and damp couple of days in the Northwest, so I started thinking earlier today that I wanted to make some sort of vegetable soup. I originally had thoughts of minestrone, but found some more interesting things through my online browsing. The soup I ended up with is based loosely on the Christmas Lima Bean Stew recipe from I adjusted based on what I had on hand as well as for the fact that I started cooking at 8pm tonight after a long day of travel and didn't have cooked beans or the energy to make celery salt (though that does sound like something fun to try later). My version came together in 30 minutes.

The resulting soup was just what I was looking for: healthy, hot, and packed with veggies. The perfect culinary close to my weekend. Here's what I did:

Garlicky Cannellini Bean Soup with Veggies
Serves 4

4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
about 6 stalks celery, washed and diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp. caraway seeds, crushed
sea salt
14.5 oz. canned diced tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
two handfuls of spinach leaves*
4 c. water
oily black olives, pitted and chopped
1 lemon, quartered

*If you've ever wondered if spinach freezes well, the answer is yes. I bought more than was humanly possible to eat a few weeks ago and rather than process it into pesto (my usual method of using up extra), I decided to try freezing it - two handfuls each went into 3 separate ziplock bags. No blanching, nothing tricky. I used the first bag in a frittata when my mom was in town a couple weeks ago with good results. Bag #2 went into my soup this evening.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic, caraway, and a couple pinches sea salt. Cook about 10 minutes longer, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelize.

Add tomatoes and water. Bring to a simmer. Add beans and spinach. Cook a few minutes until the beans are heated and the spinach is beginning to wilt. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Serve in individual bowls topped with olives and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

2 years ago: meat & mushrooms

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