Caponata with dark chocolate
I am a big fan of Felicity Cloake’s ‘How to cook the perfect…’ series in the Guardian, in which she takes a classic recipe, makes several versions by respected chefs, and then formulates one uber-recipe at the end that amalgamates the best of each, leaving out what doesn’t work. It’s just a fun, interesting exercise, and her wit makes it a real treat.
She recently tackled the classic Sicilian aubergine dish caponata, which I’d read about but never been tempted to make because it usually contains raisins, to which I have a violent aversion. Also, I could just never quite grasp how a dish of fried aubergine with vinegar and raisins and olives (and sometimes anchovies) was supposed to taste good. It just didn’t compute.
That all changed when I dined at Pesce Azzuro in Woodstock a few months back, a fabulous little Italian restaurant run by two rather tasty Italian men (one's the chef and the other's more front-of-house). I ordered the caponata antipasti, working on the theory that if I was ever going to understand why it’s one of the world’s most iconic dishes, this was a good place to start.
Well slap me sideways with a salami. It was just about one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Salty olives, sweet raisins and tart vinegar all collide in an unctuous mess of silky fried aubergine… And the result is, improbably, sexy as all get out.
So when I saw Felicity had tackled caponata in her column, I was game. She pits some heavyweight cooks against each other: Anna del Conte, Giorgio Locatelli, Ruth Rogers & Rose Gray, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Jacob Kennedy (actually, full disclosure, I'd never heard of this last guy). She cooks her way through each of their caponata recipes — mulling over the River Cafe's excessive use of celery, whether to shallow or deep-fry the aubergine, the merits of red pepper and fennel — and I thought there'd been a typo when I read: 'Two unusual twists to note: Kenedy adds a little orange juice, Del Conte grated dark chocolate.'
Huh? I'd only been convinced to attempt this dish myself because I'd eaten the real deal — but dark chocolate? That's a bit on the wild side, surely?
I think if the suggestion had come from anyone other than Anna del Conte (or possibly Marcella Hazen), I would have balked — but since she's practically the fairy godmother of Italian cooking, I decided to trust her. And I am glad I did.
You only add a smidgen of good quality, bitter dark chocolate, so it doesn't dominate, but rather sort of hums in the background, which, in Felicity's words, 'adds yet another layer of delicious complexity'. A scattering of fresh mint lifts and brightens the dish, while toasted almond flakes add a rich, nutty crunch.
Anyways, if you love caponata, this recipe is a winner. And if you’re on the fence, like I was, really, do yourself a favour and just take the plunge — it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. (And by all means leave out the chocolate if that freaks you out, it's not essential.) I served it with good sourdough rye bread and a selection of cheeses, but you could also have it as a side dish to meat or fish. At Pesce Azzuro, it was presented on its own, with a fork, and that was just dandy.
This is an app that turns photos into watercolour paintings. The images in my previous blog post? That's a photo of me, in the bath — I used Waterlogue to turn it into 'art'. It seems somehow unjust that it is now so easy to turn photos into astonishingly authentic-looking watercolours, when real life artists might labour for years to reach that level of skill... But I'm addicted. Whatcha gonna do? Can't stop progress.
I am haunted by this woman's prose... She writes a food column for BusinessDay's Wanted magazine called 'Sharp Tongue', but you can also read it online (here). A sample:
Returning is a peculiar thing. It lacks the profundity of epiphany, yet buries itself in your skin, your hair; woodsmoke the week after a fire.
There is fleeting familiarity on every London corner; uneasiness, gentle self-judgement.
There I am: terrifyingly young and blithely confident; on the Tube reading Alexander McCall-Smith. There is the scent of stale Saturday nights, the imprint of crushed grass-blades on my belly. Purring bicycle chains, slow breaths of posh gardens wilting in the heat; twinges of annoyance at the tourists who never stand on the escalator-right.
The Consolations of a Bath
I don't think I'll ever experience bathing in quite the same way after reading Alain de Botton's ode to one of the most basic human pleasures.
Georgia by Tiggs da Author
I can't get this song out of my head.
A Poem a Day
I've only recently begun to feel drawn to poetry, and this tumblr suits me perfectly, since I have no idea where to begin to find poems that appeal to me... Every day, a lovely new poem. Like this one:
by Carl Sandburg
Here is dust remembers it was a rose
one time and lay in a woman’s hair.
Here is dust remembers it was a woman
one time and in her hair lay a rose.
Oh things one time dust, what else now is it
you dream and remember of old days?