Tag Archives: origins of caponata

Summer in January: Pollock with Caponata

8 Jan

Warm January days are ripe for backyard rambles -- you never know what you'll find in your backyard

An abandoned carriage in an abandoned barn

Hey there, global warming! Nothing like a series of 60 degrees sunny days in January to snap you right out of SAD.

While I always enjoy the post-holiday weeks of close-to-home hanging and hibernation before Spring’s inevitable Bacchanalia, I found that I’ve been craving balmy summer breezes, sunlit terraces, garden-fresh salads, icey adult drinks braced with bitter tonic and sharp squirts of lime this week.

Since I can’t dash off to Bermuda right now, I have happily settled for the uptick in the mercury (despite vague feelings of guilt about being thrilled by the effects of greenhouse gases)…. And a hint of August on my plate.

Variations on traditional agrodolce sauces, often in the form of caponata, always trick my mouth into thinking Summer. When I’m stuck in Winter’s gaping maw, wondering how I’m ever going to paw my way out, the versatile sauce gives me a lift.

Agrodolce (agro means sour, dolce means sweet), is a classic Italian recipe, by way of Arab cuisine. In its most basic form, it’s simply a reduction of vinegar and sugar, with other elements (oils, wine, vegetables) added in. It’s traditionally served with roasted meats or fish, and comes in many guises. Caponata is one of my favorite iterations of agrodolce’s magic.

The Caponata preparation hails from Sicily, by way of Spain, circa roughly 1709, according to the food historian Clifford Wright. These days, it is often served as an antipasto relish, but it may have gained popularity in the 18th century for its super-long shelf-life (thanks to the vinegar, which acts as a preservative); it was a staple on sea voyagers and for travelers. And the savory-sweet sauce, bursting with flavor and moxie, has also served as a helpful reminder of Summer’s bounty — just around the corner.

A hunter's blind in our woods; we're debating the back-woods ethics of taking it down since we don't use it, but we know other hunters (who don't have permission to hunt on our property)do. For now, it's staying.

Caponata generally stars eggplant, but in Italy (the birthplace of seasonal, local food ways), it can put anything you’ve got hanging around in the spotlight – as long as you balance the agro with the dolce.

When I saw a recipe for Caponata by Michael White, my current favorite chef, I couldn’t wait to try it. I ended up tweaking it a bit, but that’s only appropriate. Click on for both versions of the recipe.

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