Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caponata to Pair with Chianti

The Winefest Renaissance this year, scheduled for April 9th, has me working on creating appetizer foods that will pair with and set to advantage both the wine and the food with which it will be served. Often, when tasting a wine, some will immediately reject it out of hand. This has actually happened to me, and I fancy myself better than that in general! When trying a particular wine and the flavors do not agree, it is worthwhile to find a food that is meant to pair with the wine and try again. Some wines are meant to serve with food, and while all wine goes well with food, some wines do just fine all on their own.

In my case, my snap judgment came when long ago I tasted a Santa Marghuerita Pinot Grigio. I kept seeing ads about it, and hearing others say how they loved it, and yet, when I tasted it, it just struck me wrong. I did not try it later with food - it just tasted that bad, to me. I have had many most excellent Pinot Gris, which though the same grape, is made in other parts of the world.

I love Italian wines, and have had so many great ones, I just dismissed the Pinot Grigio as an aberration, and stayed away. That said, obviously that style of wine goes well for a great many people. So when this year's Winefest meeting came around, I ended up selecting four Italian wines. Pinot Grigio is among them. I decided enough prejudice! Time to try again. As I wrote a few days back, I did a test run of a Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken to pair with a Pinto Grigio, and the pairing was perfect - and delicious.

Caponata with Italian Sausage atop Toasted Ciabatta
Caponata with Italian Sausage atop Toasted Ciabatta
On this note, my whole purpose in pairing foods to a wine is specifically to set both the food and the wine in their very best light. Too often, though a wine may not be specifically to one's taste on its own, it will still taste great when paired with an appropriate food. So today I chose to test run a recipe to pair with a Chianti. The Chianti I will be pairing is Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico. It is recommended that such foods as lasagna with meat, antipasti, or anything with a tomato sauce would pair excellently with this wine. To serve as an appetizer at the Winefest, I prefer to make them as easy to handle as possible, with a minimum of fuss. What first came to mind was Ratatouille, though that is a French version. I looked up "Italian Ratatouille" and came up with Caponata.

I chose to eliminate the zucchini, and add in some capers and green olives, as well as Italian sausage. I wanted this to be easy to pick up and eat, so I will serve a scoop of the Caponata atop a toasted slice of Ciabatta or Focaccia bread. I prefer to make my own breads, but today I just bought some thin, narrow Ciabatta breads and sliced them into approximately 3 x 3-inch squares. Brushed with garlic oil and broiled and they were ready. Next I set to making the Caponata. 
Cherry tomatoes to roast, eggplant browned, sausage cooked, basil chiffonade
Cherry tomatoes to roast, eggplant browned, sausage cooked, basil chiffonade

I used cherry tomatoes for that component, as they are already small and less juicy. I cut the small tomatoes into quarters or halves, depending on size, set them onto a baking sheet, sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil and baked them. They came out just as I wanted - slightly dried and more concentrated in flavor. They went into a bowl. I sliced the eggplant about 1/4-inch thick, sprinkled with salt and broiled until nicely browned and cooked through, then chopped to small bits and added them to the bowl. Blackened green and red bell peppers, peeled and chopped were added. I quartered an onion and set it to broil, tossing as the tips and edges began blackening. Once nicely charred and cooked, they were chopped and added to the other ingredients. I slightly blackened some garlic, then chopped it and soaked it in a little vinegar to avoid any strongly raw flavors. I used Italian sausage and removed the casings, frying it quickly to a nice brown, while breaking it up into small bits to add to the bowl. With some chopped parsley, oregano and basil, and some capers and olives it was all set. 

I couldn't wait to try this out!
Toasted Ciabatta breads and Caponata all ready
Toasted Ciabatta breads and Caponata all ready

I set a scoop onto one of the toasted Ciabatta slices and opened a Chianti. Wow!!! This was a most perfect pairing! Here is what I did:

Caponata with Italian Sausage

makes 40 to 45 appetizer sized scoops

4 narrow Ciabatta loaves, about 15-inches long, cut appropriately to size (or use focaccia breads)

1 eggplant, about 3/4 pound, cut in thin rounds
Caponata with Sausage, atop Toasted Ciabatta Bread
Caponata with Sausage, atop Toasted Ciabatta Bread

1 3/4 to 2 pounds cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 onion
2 - 4 cloves garlic
salt for sprinkling (about 1 1/2 teaspoons, divided
fresh cracked pepper for sprinkling
olive oil for sprinkling
2 teaspoons capers
6 to 8 green olives, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley 
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves in fine chiffonade
8 ounces fresh Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

Set oven to 400 degrees. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Set all the cherry tomatoes on tray, cut sides upwards. Sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper and sprinkle with olive oil. Bake them for 20 minutes, until nicely shriveled and beginning to brown. Remove to a bowl.

Change oven setting to broil, with a rack set in the 2nd position from the element. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set the bell peppers whole onto the sheet. Lay the eggplant slices onto the sheet and sprinkle with a little of the salt. Broil these vegetables, watching carefully. The peppers need to blacken all the way around, so turn them with tongs as needed. Once the eggplant slices are browned, turn them, sprinkling with a little more salt and brown the opposite sides, removing them to a cutting board as they are done. Chop the browned eggplant into small pieces, not more than 1/4-inch in size.

Replace the eggplant slices with the onion: cut off stem and root ends and peel the outer dry layers. Cut the onion into quarters and break apart slightly. Set these on the vacated space on the baking sheet and toss with the tongs as they begin to blacken in spots. They should cook through while moving around on the sheet. When they are done to your liking, remove to the cutting board and chop into small pieces. Add to the bowl.

Set the garlic cloves, whole, onto the baking sheet and let them blacken slightly. Remove to cutting board and chop fine. Set them in a bowl with a little white vinegar to cut out the raw bite of garlic. After about 5 minutes, drain and add garlic to the bowl. Add also the capers, olives and the herbs.

Fry the sausage until well browned and broken up. Drain on paper toweling and then add to the bowl. Stir well, adding in the Balsamic vinegar and taste for seasoning. 

Brush olive oil onto the cut sides of the Ciabatta breads and set onto a baking sheet. Broil for 1 - 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Scoop the Caponata onto the toasted breads for serving as an appetizer. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.