Worth Sharing

I’m not a huge food photo sharer on Facebook. The truth is, there are more photos of my cat on Facebook then there are of meals I’ve enjoyed. (Yes, I’m one of those people that can never get enough photos of cats or people’s children on the Internet. Share a photo of one of those two things, or better yet, together, and you’ll get a “like” from me.)

Tonight I posted a photo of dinner to Facebook with the caption “CSA Shakshuka!” I received a few thumbs up, but also a question as to what shakshuka is. Well, let me tell you about shakshuka.

The first time I’d ever heard of shakshuka was when I lived in Israel. Aleza Eve told me about the dish, a sauce made of peppers and tomatoes with eggs poached on top, and directed me to a spot in the shuk that had the best in town. After classes one afternoon, I found the shop with the famed shakshuka, but found myself drawn to the eggplant salads in the case. (I get very distracted when it comes to eggplant saladschatzeelim, as they say in Israel.) I ate my eggplant in the shade on Mt. Scopus by the Israel Museum, convincing myself I’d get the shakshuka the next time. Well, it turns out there wasn’t a next time, and the only shakshuka I’ve had has been stateside.

I’ve found shakshuka is a great use of the August CSA box which is always full of green peppers and tomatoes. Some people add onions to theirs. I think aleppo would also be nice, maybe a smidge of harissa. I found one hot pepper to be enough for me, but I know others would add at least two more. (And no, this dish is not in the least bit reflux friendly, albeit extremely delicious.) It’s also one of those chameleon dishes that can be served for breakfast, brunch, dinner or anything in between.

Shakshuka

Ingredients

2 green peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 small hot pepper, chopped into ¼ -inch pieces

5 cloves garlic, slivered

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or one box Pomi (Let’s be real: I rarely cook with my fresh tomatoes. Heck, I barely share mine with Rich.)

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Two or three hearty pinches of salt

3 eggs

Directions

In a medium skillet, sauté the peppers, garlic, spices and salt in the olive oil. Cook until they soften, about six minutes. Add the tomato. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken. With the back of a spoon, make three dents in the sauce. Pour the eggs into each of the spots. Cover pan with lid for about four minutes. Some people like yolks that ooze. Others like stiff yolks, which means you should cook the eggs for closer to seven minutes. It’s really up to you.

Serve in low-rimmed bowls with hunks of crusty bread or pita.

Belle of the Ball

Today’s recipe doesn’t come with a story, just a warning: If you make this eggplant caponata this weekend for a barbeque, or maybe a picnic, or maybe even a college reunion get-together, people will flock to you. You’ll be surrounded, inundated by compliments. It can get embarrassing, and I just want to give you fair warning.

You’ll start getting e-mails from people you didn’t even know you’d met at the party. Maybe they’ll find you through Facebook, maybe they’ll look you up in a Student Directory or Google you. I don’t know how they’re going to find you, but they will. At a certain point, you’ll just keep this recipe on your desktop, or just embed it into your email so you can just send it out without thinking about it.

With great power comes great responsibility, and I feel I’d be setting you up without the warning.

I have Mario Batali to thank for this recipe. It’s his take on the Sicilian eggplant classic caponata. He makes his with an entire tablespoon of hot red pepper flakes, which is much too much for most people. I usually stick to a teaspoon, maybe a second if I’m feeling bold. The last time I made the dish, I accidentally made it with the tablespoon, but saved it by melting about 1/3 cup of chocolate chips into a hot spot in the pan. The chocolate danced perfectly with the cocoa and cinnamon; if you’re curious, I say go for it.

This is one of those dishes whose flavors need to date for a while and get to know each other. If you want to make this for a party on Sunday, I’d suggest making it Saturday, or even Friday night. Like a nice wine or Ray Allen, it just gets better with age.

Every time I cook this, I wonder what it would be like if I steamed the eggplant first. If you do end up steaming yours, please let me know how it turned out. I cook it for much longer than Mario suggests, softening things as much as I can. He calls for ¾ cup of basic tomato sauce; I’ve discovered that a box of Pomi marinara sauce works perfectly.

Eggplant Caponata (Caponata di Melanzane) Adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large Spanish onion, cut into ½ inch dice

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons pine nuts

3 tablespoons dried currants

Up to 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (I salt the eggplant to remove the bitterness while I scurry around the kitchen prepping the onion and gathering my spices. Be sure to rinse the salt off before cooking.)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

¾ cup basic tomato sauce, or 1 box Pomi marinara sauce

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a 10-to-12 inch sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onion, garlic, pine nuts, currants and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion is softened and translucent, around 15 minutes.
  2. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and cook until the eggplant has softened. Sometimes it takes as much as 20 minutes for it to lose its firmness. Just keep on stirring it to make sure it doesn’t stick and brown.
  3. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Bring to room temperature before serving.

When you bring it to the party, serve it on crostini, or some slices of baguette. I also enjoy tossing it with some pasta and making it into a meal.