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2015 0808 Caponata AgrodolceAgrodolce for short. Sweet and sour eggplant made crunchy with celery and salty with capers. A perfect appetizer OR a side dish OR a condiment to top simply cooked fish or grilled bread. I’ve tried lots of ways of making caponata, some with eggplant alone and some with zucchini. I call this one “grande” because it’s so generous, a large batch full of ingredients that meld as they marinate. The full recipe satisfies a large picnic and can be made well ahead and kept for weeks as leftovers.
2015 0808 Zucchini and eggplant for caponataThe origin of this recipe is improbable, and so memorable that I think about it every time we approach Labor Day weekend. I heard the recipe years ago during an interview on – of all places – the Food Network. It was the first time I ever watched the Food Network and embarrassingly the first time I turned the TV on by myself. Don’t laugh. I felt stranded at home when other family members took a nearly cross-country trip to a soccer tournament. I typically would have gone along but it was too far away to take dogs so I stayed home with missions in mind. I was surprised at the sudden silence in our normally noisy household and a little bored cleaning our studio when I decided to turn on the radio or the TV to keep me company. I listen to radio all the time so I thought I’d venture with TV, expecting some sporting event. And there was the Food Network interviewing a grandfatherly man named Mariano Orlando who was bragging about his Sicilian caponata. With all the ingredients on hand, I made it at once. Awesome, just what I wanted and, once fine-tuned to my liking, an annual ritual. Grazie Mariano.
2015 0808 Caponata first tossThe caponata starts with uniformly diced yellow summer squash, green zucchini and unpeeled eggplant that are individually sautéed in olive oil and set aside, Combined with slowly sautéed onions and garlic, the medley is doused with reduced red wine vinegar and a little sugar (the agrodolce), bound with tomato sauce and roasted peppers, enlivened by crunchy celery, capers and kalamata-type olives, and made salad-like with abundant fresh oregano and parsley. When making this in advance, which I nearly always do, I hold off adding the capers, olives and herbs until an hour or so before serving.

Caponata Agrodolce adapted from Mariano Orlando, Food Network

3 medium eggplants, skin on, cut into small dice (1/3 inch)
3 small green zucchini, cut into small dice (1/3 inch)
3 small yellow squash, cut into small dice (1/3 inch) – I used bright yellow squash vs crookneck, which is too soft
2 yellow onions, cut into small dice (1/4 inch)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼-½ c olive oil
1½ c red wine vinegar
2 tbsp granulated white cane sugar
1 c roasted red peppers in ½-inch dice
½ c tomato sauce
½ c capers
¼ c black kalamata-type olives, cut in ¼-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano

Prepare all of the vegetables and set aside. Heat some of the olive oil in a large side heavy pan and, over medium high heat, saute the eggplant in one-layer batches, removing each to a platter. Add olive oil as needed. Repeat with the zucchini, yellow squash and onions, adding garlic near the end of cooking the onions. Set aside and keep warm.
In the meanwhile, make the “agrodolce.” Combine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until reduced by half, 3-5 minutes.

While the vegetables are still warm, stir in the roasted red peppers and pour the vinegar mixture over the top. Stir to combine thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato sauce and set aside to mellow, at least an hour before serving but up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

The day you’re serving this, bring to room temperature (this takes a few hours), stir in the celery, capers, olives and herbs, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 10-12 as a side dish, many more as part of a buffet.

2015 0808 Apricots and lemon thymeMy adventure with the lemony herbs of summer continues with lemon thyme. Recent success adding lemon verbena to blueberries made me look around my garden when I came back from the market with several pounds of local rosy apricots. Lemon thyme was rampant, planted as a soil-cooling device in terra cotta pots full of peppers with exotic names like Bishop’s Crown, Chimayo, Pilange, Bulgarian Carrot (the hottest little carrot-lookalike you’ll ever taste), among others. All this in a season when I struggle to keep my garden watered.
2015 0808  Apricots macerating in sugar and thymeI’ve been using lemon thyme like I normally would parsley. Its woodiness has somehow allowed it to thrive in our hot and rainless summer days and cool nights, while parsley lies exhausted from wilting.
2015 0808  Apricot and lemon thyme jamIn this jam, lemon juice cuts the sweetness of the fruit and boosts the gel, while the thyme adds an herbal counterpoint. I added sprigs of lemon thyme to the apricots from the beginning and fished them out before the final boil. If you want to add a small sprig to the finished jam, dunk it in boiling water first, and submerge it in the jam, using a spoon handle or chopstick to remove any air bubbles.

Apricot Jam with Lemon Thyme

2 lb apricots, pitted and cut into ½-inch pieces
1½ c sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, seeds and peel reserved and tied in a small muslin sack
4-5 sprigs lemon thyme, 2-3 inches long

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit in a relatively cool place for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

In a large heavy pot, bring the mixture just to a simmer and return it to the bowl to cool. Crumble a piece of parchment paper over the top (to minimize evaporation) and let sit for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Cover with plastic wrap if your refrigerator has other contents that exude odors.

When ready to make the jam, if using a water bath canning method of preserving it, prepare the jars and lids. Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.
Remove the lemon thyme sprigs and the sack of lemon seeds and peel and pour the apricot mixture into a large heavy pan with a wide bottom. Bring to a boil and cook over medium high heat, stirring to prevent the mixture from scorching, until it tests for gel, about 5-7 minutes. (It’s gelled when a drop of liquid placed on the frozen saucer is wrinkly to the touch.)

Ladle into hot jars, remove any air bubbles with a spoon handle or chopstick, clean the rims and cap with a two-part lid. (if you’re adding a tiny sprig of thyme to each jar, dunk the thyme in boiling water to wilt and submerge it in the jam, taking care to release any surrounding air bubbles.) Process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the jars to a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes approximately 6 four-ounce jars.

2015 0725 Blueberries and lemon verbenaLemony herbs always seem like summer. Lemon basil, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, citrusy geraniums and so on. I grow them in large pots in our courtyard where they escape the scorching sun and heat of the house garden and farm. Of the group, lemon verbena is the one that endures outside the season since I dry it for a digestive tea that we enjoy all year round. With local blueberry season winding down, I decided to capture a bit of summer in a berry jam infused with lemon fruit and the grassiness of lemon herbs. I typically make this jam with lemon basil but thought that the more robust verbena was worth trying.
2015 0725 Blueberry and lemon verbena jamI also changed the method for making this jam from previous versions. In order to diminish the amount of sugar, I boiled the berries in a little water first and measured the result, adding sugar in proportion. Blueberry skins have a lot of natural pectin and lemon created an acidic condition so I didn’t see the need to over-do the sugar. Since this yielded a lot of liquid, I drained the juice and boiled it to the gel point before adding the fruit and cooking to gel again.

Blueberry and Lemon Verbena Jam
4 c blueberries
½ c water
2 c sugar (measured)
1 lemon: juice, seeds, ½ shell, ½ peel slivered
1 stalk of lemon verbena (8 inches, with about 10 leaves)

Cook half of the blueberries in water until they burst. Add the remainder of the blueberries and cook until tender, a few minutes. Measure the blueberry mixture and add half of the volume of sugar (i.e., 4 c blueberry mix, 2 c sugar). Peel the lemon and finely dice or sliver half of it and add it to the blueberries. Juice the lemon, reserving the seeds and pulp. Add the juice to the blueberries, place the seeds and half of the lemon hull in a muslin sack and submerse it in the blueberries. Lightly bruise the leaves and stalk of the lemon verbena and add it to blueberries. Let mixture sit for several hours on the counter or overnight, refrigerated.

When ready to make jam, prepare jars for water bath canning and place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel. Drain the liquid from the macerating berries into a heavy wide pan and bring to a boil. Boil until it tests for gel (a small drop on the frozen saucer will be wrinkly to the touch), 5-7 minutes. Add the berries and boil again until it tests for gel, about 5 minutes. Ladle into prepared jars and cap with a two-piece lid. Process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed until cool.
Makes about 6 four-ounce jars.

Shishito Peppers

2015 0718 Shishito Peppers in our GardenA simple discovery led to an annual ritual. A few years ago, we pulled in to a picturesque restaurant in the Napa Valley that we like to visit, late for lunch but starving. The place was shutting down to set up for dinner, but sure, we could sit in the courtyard and they would serve us. How about starting with an appetizer of shishito peppers and sharing a composed salad? That would least disturb the kitchen.
2015 0717 Shishito peppers in bowlWe were enjoying ourselves sipping wine at a café table under olive trees that sent dappled light across the courtyard, when the waiter brought out an oval plate piled high with shishito peppers. I had been expecting a more complicated appetizer, perhaps with anchovies or cheese, but no, this was a pile of two-inch peppers that had been sautéed in olive oil, slightly charred in places and sprinkled with salt. No utensils, just a plate of peppers. Picked up by the stem end and eaten in a bite or two, they were simply magical.
2015 0717 Sauteed Shishito PeppersI have spotted shishito peppers only once in our local farmers’ markets, so I grow them every year just for the experience we enjoyed in California. Because the plants are prolific and will continue to produce if kept picked, even a few will provide a satisfying harvest. And true to the discovery in the Napa Valley, I prepare them simply. I heat a large heavy pan until very hot, film it with olive oil, lay the peppers in the pan in one layer (make in batches if you have a lot of peppers), and sauté over medium heat, turning them gently and cooking until they collapse, about 10 minutes. They’ll darken in places, but you shouldn’t fully char them. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot. You could also add a squeeze of lemon, but any more complicated preparation would overpower the delicate and delicious flavor and texture of simply prepared shishitos.

Wild Raspberry Salsa

2015 0711 Wild raspberry salsaWhat’s that phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention?” We were staring awestruck at the results of an over-adventurous trip to the woods that yielded a tremendous amount of wild raspberries and wondering how to use them all productively. 2015 0711 Red onion, pepper, clantroAs far as I know this salsa was invented on the spot by one of our family members who foraged around in my garden for bolting cilantro and fresh hot peppers and came up with a delicious salsa. Surprisingly versatile, this should not be relegated to the cracker tray but drizzled over grilled fish, tossed with corn, or paired with fresh muskmelon and prosciutto. Although we consumed just about every batch the day it was made, a small bowl left in the back of the refrigerator for a week turned out to keep very well. It just needed a little freshening with new cilantro leaves and a splash of vinegar or lime juice.2015 0711 Wild Raspberry Salsa with Chips 2

Wild Raspberry Salsa
1 pt wild raspberries, lightly rinsed
A few sprigs of cilantro, stems and leaves
1/2 small red onion, finely minced
1 small-medium hot pepper, minced
Grated lime zest
Pinch salt
1-2 tbsp vinegar (unseasoned rice, cider or red wine)
Optional: squeeze or two of lime juice
Lightly rinse the raspberries, shake to remove excess water and place in a bowl. Pick the leaves from the cilantro and finely chop the stems. Reserve the leaves. Add the stems to the raspberries along with a portion of the hot pepper (reserve some to correct the heat), onion, lime zest, salt and 1 tbsp vinegar and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Taste for hotness and tartness and add more hot pepper and vinegar to taste, along with a portion of the cilantro leaves, lightly torn. Just before serving, check again for hotness and tartness and garnish with additional cilantro leaves. Stir in a little lime juice to spark the taste.
Makes 1 cup.

2015 0703  Wild raspberries and red currrants in basketsOur family craves a carefully curated pantry. Think of preserves in limited editions made from produce we’ve grown or foraged. With rooms in our house that transform into a full-blown artists’ print shop at a moment’s notice, I think this is really about designing and fabricating labels and other collateral. So far, I’ve held up my end of the bargain, with dozens of packed jars ready for labeling. They have makeshift sticky notes all over them now but someday they will be boasting graphics as gorgeous as the jam.
2015 0704  Black Raspberry Currant JamAlong with the label idea came a search for distinctive jars and lids. The ubiquitous quilted Ball jelly jars with two-piece lids seemed too homey for this experiment. My husband trekked out to Fillmore Container in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see what they could offer as an alternative. Well, quite a lot. Even though I continually used the words “continuous thread” (CT) to describe the lids I wanted, he came back with lugs anyway. A while back, Marisa from Food in Jars posted about CT versus lug, courtesy of Fillmore Container, and I followed their advice.
2015 0704  Wild raspberry and red currant jam in lug jarsMost typical for water bath canning are one-piece or two-piece lids with continuous threads and “buttons” in the middle of the lids that suck in with the vacuum formed when air is drawn out of the jar. That button tells you that an appropriate seal is made. Continuous thread, or screw-on lid, means that the lid and the jar each have grooves that are threaded in one continuous bead. Home canners are familiar with this system. Lugs, also called twist-off, have multiple threads in the lid that correspond to threads in the jar, so they interlock. They’re made for capping machines that set them perfectly in a commercial setting but actually are easy to set by hand. The trick is to get them snug but not so tight as to strip the thread and not so loose that they’ll disengage. The USDA prefers the CT method since it’s more foolproof for the home canner but Fillmore insists that lugs work too. So far, I agree. Just get the high heat variety of any type since water bath canning means that the jars are subjected to boiling water at 212 degrees F.

This jam follows my yearly ritual of using red currants – the few small boxes that come my way – to add a tart and perky edge to berry jam of all sorts, and also to rhubarb. This jam is delicious. Just waiting for those labels, ahem.

Wild Raspberry and Red Currant Jam

4 c wild raspberries
2 c cane sugar, preferably organic
1 lemon, juiced, with seeds and peel reserved
½ pt (1 c), fresh red currants, de-stemmed
1 c water

Pick over the raspberries, removing any stem ends that linger, and rinse lightly with cool water. Place in a large bowl and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Place reserved lemon seeds and a few slices of peel in a small muslin sack and submerge in the fruit. Set aside to macerate for several hours.

Clean the currants and place them in a small pot with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the currants burst, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate if not using right away.

Place the raspberries in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes and return to the bowl to cool. Combine with the currant mixture. Refrigerate if not using right away.

When ready to prepare the jam, prepare the jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer to test the gel.

Remove the sack of lemon seeds and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Cook until the jam tests for gel (a drop on the frozen plate will be wrinkly to the touch). Fill the prepared jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the jars to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Makes 6 four-ounce jars.

2015 0627 Gooseberries in bowlIt’s rare to find gooseberries around here. I’m not sure that they’re native. Growing them is actually banned in much of the state of New Jersey since they can carry a fungus called white pine blister rust, which would threaten the Pine Barrens, a vast stretch of land that harbors one of the region’s most important aquifers. We don’t live in one of the forbidden counties but I rarely see them grown locally. The same is true of currants, which are relatives of the gooseberry in the species Ribes. Both are pretty delicate so we don’t even find them imported to specialty shops. I am grateful that a local farm grows them, albeit in small quantities. 2015 0627 Gooseberry JamLike currants, uses for gooseberries abound in locales that favor hedgerows. England for example. And continental Europe. The first gooseberry jam that I made this year is robust, flavorful and tart, not for the faint of heart. The second one was inspired by the elderflowers that line the edges of our fields along the Millstone River, another child of the traditional hedgerow. I had just made my yearly batch of elderflower cordial and had a second batch of distilled blossom water, so I used it to make the gooseberry jam, sweetening it a little more than the first batch and smoothing it with an immersion blender. The gooseberry jam with elderflowers was more refined and slightly floral in comparison to the first batch. I was considering floating some blossoms in the mix to distinguish the two, as I’ve seen others do, but they looked like mosquitoes and I thought that was too literal a reference to the glen where the elderberries grow wild. At least that’s how I would remember the day.

Gooseberry Jam and a Version with Elderflowers
1 pt gooseberries, rinsed
1 c water or elderflower water (use slightly more water to create a thinner jam)
Sugar (amount is proportional to the liquid)
Juice of ½ lemon

Place the gooseberries in a heavy pot and add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook until the gooseberries deflate, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Prepare jars for water bath canning and place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.

Lightly mash the gooseberries and measure the liquid. (I got 1½ c.) Add half the amount of sugar (in my case, ¾ c) and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook until the jam tests for gel (when a drop paced on the frozen saucer is wrinkly to the touch), about 5 minutes.

Ladle into warm jars, clean the rims and top with a two-part lid. Process the jars in the water bath for ten minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars sit for five minutes before removing them to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Makes 3-4 four-ounce jars.

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