The weather was beautiful on Saturday, and I had been at work all day, so I was very happy to come home to a glass of rosé and dinner on the grill. Jon had picked up some gorgeous sweet corn from Dunbar Gardens, and there was a ribeye from an upriver Angus farm, as well as some eggplant left over from the last farmer’s market, which I decided to make into another batch of caponata.
Jon rubbed the corn with oil and a dry spice mix before grilling (see his recipe below). I love corn done this way, with just a little char and plenty of salt and hot pepper. He had run out of New Mexico chile powder, so he substituted a little extra cayenne and some dried chile flakes. The corn had quite a kick.
For the caponata, I tried something a little different. First, I used Castelvetrano olives, an unpitted green olive with a meaty texture and wonderful nutty flavor. We happened to have a few left, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I got out the Oxo cherry/olive pitter from my IFBC goodie bag. Astonishingly, it worked like a charm! A very handy little gadget.
We eat so much grilled eggplant during the summer (thanks to the nice folks at Hedlin Family Farms) it’s a little embarrassing. Sometimes we dust it with spices first, but usually we just dress it with olive oil, salt and pepper, grill it till it poofs up and turns golden, then eat it in huge heaps with lamb kebabs or whatever else is on the grill that day. In an attempt to do something different with our weekly poundage of eggplant (plus some of the tomatoes which are beginning to take over the deck), I came up with this caponata. And we’ve made it twice in one week, so I guess it worked pretty well.
My approach here is to get all the ingredients except the eggplant mixed together in a big bowl, so all I have to do is take a cutting board down by the grill and dice up the eggplants as they come off the heat. Then I dump them into the dressing and mix everything up together. The flavors sit and blend while we grill the next part of the meal.
Somewhere along the line, North African cuisine has become one of my personal comfort foods. There’s something particularly wonderful about tagines with couscous, when it all blends together to create a bowlful of chewy, starchy, meaty deliciousness. The flavors are often pungent, but balanced, often with a good hit of fresh herbs, and I just find it so comforting on a cold evening. Last week I had a real craving for couscous with chicken and preserved lemon, and I must say it did the trick.
Of all the variations I’ve made of Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives, this turned out to be a favorite. I found a recipe by Paula Wolfert that happened to use the sort of olives I had on hand and the right amount of lemon, and it was very successful. I particularly liked how it calls for braising bone-in chicken parts in aromatic broth, then taking out the pieces and roasting them until the skin crisps up and serving them with the reduced sauce. It prevents that soggy chicken skin problem that usually keeps me from braising skin-on pieces.
I didn’t marinate the chicken ahead of time (not my preference, just disorganized) and I left out the mashed chicken livers that the original recipe called for (partly because I didn’t have any, mostly because I don’t care for liver flavor). We served it with Israeli couscous. It was very rich with schmaltz, but sharp with lemon, olive and parsley. The last bottle of viognier from the basement was a perfect match. Continue reading
We had friends over to help celebrate the solstice, and after much deliberation we settled on North African-style food. I made a roasted chicken rubbed with pureed onion and sumac powder (from Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food), chickpeas with pomegranate molasses, Lebanese couscous with apricots, and marinated olives. J made a green salad with strips of piquillo pepper and nuggets of fried garlic (from Casa Moro), and for dessert we just put out a big colander full of ripe strawberries and a bag of chocolate nib cookies from the Breadfarm. Oh, yum.
It was all fantastic, but I’d like to make special note of the olives. Continue reading