Caponata penne

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This caponata pasta is the lighter adaptation of a traditional dish from Sicily which is a true lush vegetarian delight. It would be difficult to define it, because it is simply too good, so essential, yet leaving you with the most fulfilling feeling only a vernacular masterpiece can deliver. Caponata is symphony of warm colours, intense smells and flavours, all mingling with its own ancient history.

The aubergine is the protagonist of this dish, combined with celery, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, pine kernels, basil, and olive oil, lots of it–as you are supposed to fry the vegetables in it. The whole lot is magically concocted with some sugar and a splash of vinegar. It sounds funny today to think that when aubergines arrived in Sicily with the first Arab invasion they were deemed to be apples that had gone off and carriers of diseases.

The earliest appearance of caponata in Sicily seems to date to the eighteenth century and its origin is of the poorest ones. A renowned local dish used the fish ‘capone’, quite expensive, which was deep fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with vinegar. The sauce was so delicious that it started to be prepared with aubergines and tomatoes, some of the cheapest and most available vegetables for anyone, especially those that could not afford the capone fish.

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Caponata penne (serves 2)

200-250 g penne
1 aubergine
100 g sun-dried tomatoes (drained)
30 g pine kernels
1 tbsp of sliced black olives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clover
1 mozzarella (about 150 g drained)

Gently cook the garlic in a frying pan with 1 tbsp of hot olive oil, till golden. Chop the washed aubergine and cook at mid-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing them now and then. After 5 minutes, add the sliced sun-dried tomatoes and olives. There is no need to add salt or pepper.

After the first ten minutes of cooking, lower the heat to minimum, add the pine kernels, while you put the pasta in salted boiling water–penne usually cook al dente in 11 minutes.

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Before the last minute of pasta cooking, take the caponata off the fire and add diced mozzarella. One minute later, drain the pasta, add it to the caponata pan, and mix to let the mozzarella melt.

Serve hot (!), with 1 tbsp of fresh olive oil and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes to decorate. You can also add two leaves of fresh basil if you like to strengthen the bitter flavour.

by Max

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Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

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Risotto is a vital part of my food. It says heritage and cooking experience to me. The options are always many, the last one was a fresh discovery. This risotto is cooked in courgette pesto and its flavour makes it a light, green-tasting new tint for me. The courgettes are prepared raw with cheese and some nuts, and then cooked with the rice. It takes little time to prepare and it is worth it.

Italian food has honoured courgette for centuries, literally. Arriving in Europe with the ingredients from the ‘New World’, courgettes were at the beginning confused for the European pumpkin, which was already widely diffused. Already in the seventeenth century, Italian courgettes from Modena were renowned for their versatility in the kitchen and for apothecaries uses.

Courgettes are the kind of vegetables that you go and get from the garden at home, and that is why they are prepared in so many ways, from vernacular roots to a posh finish, across Italy’s many local traditions. This version is geographical catch, because risotto is typically cooked in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, pesto comes from Liguria, and green courgettes are equally diffused north and south of the Boot.

Courgette pesto risotto (serves 4)

400 g rice Carnaroli–ideally, otherwise Arborio
1 l vegetable broth
1 glass of white wine
1 shallot
200 g courgette
20 g basil
1 clove of garlic
20 g pine kernels
10 g almond flakes
50 g goat cheese
oil

Start with washing the courgettes, cut extremities off, and shave each one at a time through a grater. Add a pinch of salt and let them drain some liquid.

Wash the basil leaves and blend with pine kernels, almonds, the cleaned garlic clove, and a tablespoon of oil–keep a few nuts for the serving decoration. Add the courgettes and another bit of oil. Your pesto has to look and feel soft and even.

Warm the oil in the pan, add chopped shallot till golden, and then raise the fire to toast the rice. After the first few minutes, the rice starts to lightly toast and smell very ‘cerealy’: add now the wine and let it reduce. Lower the fire and let cook for about 18 minutes adding the broth from time to time. Add your courgette pesto at the end with the very last bit of broth. Instead of creaming with butter, add the goat cheese and mix.

Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining pine kernels and almond flakes.

by Max