I was looking through our bookshelves at home and came across a cookbook that our friend, Armyn, gave us. It was a book of her mother Minnie’s recipes—a tribute to her created by Armyn’s brother, Bob. There were only a few copies printed, so we were honored to be given one. As I flipped through the pages, I couldn’t help but think of our Italian moms—both Minnie and my own mom, Rose—and how food was such an integral part of their families. They were happiest when they were preparing meals in their kitchens with everyone cramming shoulder to shoulder around their tables.
And now, all these years later, we still love to cook the things they cooked. It brings them present. They make us stronger. They remind us what is most important in life. They stand with us always—but perhaps most vividly in the kitchen. And as we pass their recipes down the generations of our families, we know these amazing women will never be forgotten.
So today, as we make something classically Italian using what’s seasonal now, we are thinking of Minnie, Rose, and all the great moms who loved to cook and made so many beautiful memories around their tables. Serve this caponata with some cheese and a glass of Prosecco, and you’ve got something both simple and special.
Here’s to our moms! Salute!
Notes: You can peel the sunchokes if you like, but we just gave them a good scrubbing with a stiff brush under running water. When cutting up the vegetables, they should be diced into roughly the same sized pieces, but you don’t need to be a perfectionist about it. A quarter to half-inch dice is good. Caponata is a perfect appetizer because it’s even better when made earlier in the day and refrigerated for a couple of hours or even overnight so the flavors have a chance to mingle. That means it will be ready to serve when you are. Just bring it to room temperature first.
• Olive oil for cooking
• 1 cup celery, diced (see notes above)
• 3/4 cup shallots, diced
• pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
• 1/2 lb sunchokes, scrubbed and diced
• 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
• 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
• 10 Kalamata pitted olives, diced
• 2 tsp capers, drained
• 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
• Salt and black pepper
• 2 tbs minced parsley
• 6–8 slices of your favorite crusty bread
* Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
* Cook the shallots and celery with a pinch of red pepper flakes, along with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, until they’re softened and the edges have browned. Transfer to a large bowl.
* Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and put in the sunchokes. Cook until also tender with browned edges. Add to the bowl with the shallots and celery.
* Add a little more oil to the pan and cook the tomatoes until juicy but not totally falling apart. Add a little salt and black pepper.
* Push the tomatoes to the side of the pan and sauté the garlic until golden, adding a little more olive oil if necessary.
* Add the shallots, celery and sunchokes back into the pan, along with the olives and capers. Mix together.
* Add the balsamic vinegar and stir while scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes.
* Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until needed. Add the parsley and taste for seasoning just before serving.
* When you’re ready to eat, place your bread on a baking sheet, brush the top of each slice with a bit of olive oil and toast in a 350° F oven.
* Pile the caponata on top. Eat!
© 2017 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.