Oregon-style smoky caponata is my attempt to replicate a most memorable caponata I once had at the historic James Beard awarded Nick's Italian Café in McMinville, Oregon. Nick's caponata (a sort of Sicilian version of ratatouille) is made in a wood-fired oven that imparts a lovely smoky note not typical to caponata. I think of it every year at this time, when tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are at their seasonal peak. This year I decided to make it at home, even without a wood burning oven of my own.
The idea of how to pull this off, however, came from another Oregon restaurant. We recently ate at King Estate Winery Restaurant, where a fresh oyster dish came in a covered Dutch oven in which hay from their farm encircled the oysters, was lit, and then quickly covered before being whisked tableside. We erupted in happy sighs of awe when the lid was removed, the smoke puffed out, and the gently smoked raw oysters were revealed. The aroma was incredible and the food inside was a stunning surprise.
I thought-- Hey! I mean, hay! I'm an Oregon hay farmer! I've got tons of that stuff. What could I smoke? How about a caponata like Nick's?
How to Use Oregon-Style Smoky Caponata
Caponata makes a flavorful summer bounty bruschetta. Why not pile it into a bowl, surrounded by the toast for an interactive dish people can build themselves? It's also a great all-in-one pizza topping. Or, use it as a relish on a cheese and charcuterie platter. To change up any leftovers, blitz it into a smooth paste for a dip for flatbread, a sandwich spread, or pizza sauce base.
My most favorite way to use caponata might be in pasta. Caponata with nearly any pasta, with a scoop of pasta water and more olive oil for a silky sauce? Yes! Add a generous spoonful of ricotta, a flurry of pine nuts, and some basil on top and you've got a wonderful weeknight dinner.
Making the Caponata
This little caponata recipe is entirely worth the multiple steps. If you skip the optional hay smoking step you'll still end up with a caponata that will be a little more complex than usual by using the grill.
Caponata is usually made by roasting the eggplant in the oven, then adding it to the other ingredients on the stovetop to complete the cooking. I've found that roasting all the vegetables together in a grill basket (this high-quality stainless steel one is on sale right now) on the grill saves turning on the oven and eliminates a step. When making it in the winter months or if you don't have a grill, this step can be done in the oven with all the cubed vegetables on a baking sheet at one time . The oven method will not have the smoky quality, but will be traditional and delicious.
The vegetables are cooked and hay-smoked (directions below) on the grill, then we finish the dish in a large skillet on the stovetop. This is where we lightly and quickly stew the vegetables with capers, olives, a little sugar and vinegar for the typical sweet/sour finish, olive oil, and herbs. This final part takes about 15 minutes.
Serve the caponata at room temperature or lightly chilled. It is even better the day after it's made and the flavors have integrated, making it perfect for do-ahead meals and entertaining.
How to Smoke Foods With Hay
Hay smoking provides a light, gentle smoked quality to any vegetable, potato, chicken or fish dish cooked on the grill. To hay smoke caponata on the hot grill, carefully take a handful of cut hay and arrange it around the grill pan. Acting very quickly, use a long-necked lighter to touch the hay in two or three places and immediately shut the lid of the grill. You'll see a light smoke coming from under the lid and seams of the grill. After three or four minutes, carefully open the grill to make sure the flame is out. Now, a light kiss of hay smoke aroma and flavor has fallen on the vegetables.
Remember to avoid overcooking! Do this step after the food is not quite at the doneness you desire. It will continue to cook in the enclosed hot grill for three of four additional minutes.
Share Your Success!
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Oregon-Style Smoky Caponata
Course: Appetizer, Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Pacific Northwest
Season: Bounty (August - October)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Prep Time: 15minutes
Cook Time: 40minutes
Total Time: 55minutes
Author: Pam Spettel
A kiss of hay smoke, easily done in a grill, brings this classic Italian summer vegetable dish next level. Use you caponata on bruschetta for an appetizer or light meal, as a pizza topping, or as a relish for a charcuterie plate.
1 largered, orange, or yellow bell pepper, seeded, large diced
½largepurple onion, large diced
4medium tomatoes, ripe, large diced
8clovesgarlic, peeled and roughly chopped into large pieces
6tablespoonsextra virgin olive oil, divided
2tablespoonstomato paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water
3tablespoonssherry vinegar, or white wine or red wine vinegar
¼-⅓cupblack oil-cured olives, green Castelvetrano, or Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
salt and ground black pepper to taste
¼cupmixed fresh oregano and basil, roughly chopped
Preheat all elements of a gas grill to high heat (400°-450°) or light a charcoal grill for a hot fire. Wash and chop the eggplant, pepper, onion, tomatoes, and garlic. Place the prepared vegetables in a grill basket. (Alternately, you could put the vegetables in a large cast iron skillet, or on multiple sheets of foil with the edges crumpled in to create a sided container.)
Put the grill basket onto a plate, and sprinkle the vegetables generously with salt and black pepper (at least one teaspoon of salt to enliven the vegetables is my recommendation.) Drizzle the vegetables with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and stir. (The plate will contain any olive oil drips as you transport the grill basket to the grill and back.)
Once the grill is up to heat, place the grill basket onto the grates and close the lid. Check the vegetables every five-seven minutes and stir to help them cook evenly and to keep them from sticking and burning. Adjust your temperature or move your coals as needed to maintain a high but not scorching heat. Cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften but retain their shape, and the eggplant is turning from opaque creamy white to translucent gray-beige but the centers still have a little of their white showing through. Depending on your grill and its heat, this step will take from 15 to 25 minutes.
Do the optional hay smoking technique, described below. Remove the grill basket back to the plate, and bring it indoors to complete the dish. (Or, if you have a burner feature on your grill use it. Lucky you!)
On your cooktop, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet to medium heat. Add the vegetables from the grill basket. Stir in the remaining ingredients except the herbs. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are fork-soft but not mushy, and are coated in the light sauce that has formed. This step will take about 15 minutes.
Allow the caponata to cool a bit before stirring in the herbs. Reserve a few pinches of the herbs for garnish, and serve. Store leftovers in a tightly closed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Optional Hay Smoking
Turn off the gas grill, or if using a charcoal grill, scoot the coals to one side away from the grill pan. Find a medium-sized handful of clean, dry hay, and arrange it around the outer edges of the grill basket. Work carefully around the hot grill and grill grates to avoid injury. Use a long-necked lighter to lightly touch the hay in two or three places, and quickly cover the grill. You will notice a light smoke coming from under the lid and seams of the grill. When is dissipates to light wisps, remove the grill lid and proceed.Only try this in an enclosed grill to avoid setting a grass fire.
Are you ready for a true confession?
I rarely cook from a recipe. The first time I made this Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta there was no script. I tell you this so you understand my process of getting a recipe from my brain to your screen-- one that I know will work for you at home and that you can trust. A recipe that will hopefully make it onto your table.
How an Idea Becomes a Recipe
A new recipe concept starts with thinking and dreaming about the flavors, colors, scents, and textures of ingredients. This work happens when I'm asleep and when I'm awake-- all the time! All that I have learned in over 50 years of cooking and eating informs how a new recipe idea comes together.
Intuition led the way when I first made this marigold Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta, like with most things I cook. I found it warm and comforting. It was delicious enough to share, and didn't take a fortnight to make, and so on to trial number two.
The second run is where I pay keen attention to quantities, timing, and cooking nuances you might want to know that will ensure success. Paper and pen are right next to me noting details as I work it through. At this stage I ask myself some hard questions: Is this really the kind of recipe you might want. Does this recipe create a solution for you? Will it delight you and your family and guests? Is it a thing you might really make at home? How can I instill confidence and cheerlead you through the steps?
When I agreed with my initial idea that you might really like this recipe, I moved on to a third Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta trial. Once again I prepare the recipe again from my notes, writing down any new thoughts or learnings that come. This is the step where I photograph the process using natural light and no filters-- no spin or tricks. Then off I go to write up the recipe in standard format for you.
Lastly and most importantly, I invite your feedback. If a recipe step is unclear, if there is something that you loved or that didn't go right, or if you have an idea that you tried that made it even better, I'm all ears! Please email me at email@example.com. I warmly welcome your comments on the post, too. Every time you leave a star rating on the recipe you help others find it through the Google maze. I value that, as well. In short, you are at the center of my work.
Making the Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta
Please don't let the idea of making sausage intimidate you. It is as fast and easy as adding a few herbs and spices to some purchased ground meat. Try it with ground pork or turkey if you prefer. I just happen to like the lightness of the chicken with this ample portion of pasta. Casings or fancy techniques are not called upon. This particular spice blend was borrowed from a recipe I wrote about years ago.
The sausage recipe is versatile. Roll it into meatballs. Brown it and use it on pizza, salad or in other pastas. Form it into patties to snuggle into a bun or next to your breakfast eggs.
Pumpkin puree is easy to do at home. Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch. Laugh along with me at my very first and awkward Facebook Live tutorial! However, feel free to use canned pumpkin puree if that works best for you. The recipe uses two cans of solid-pack pumpkin puree (just one if you want to cut the recipe in half.) Recipes that aren't scaled to use an entire can of something that will otherwise go to waste are simply annoying.
Wine Pairing with Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta
When you are looking for a wine-friendly autumn dish, Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage is it. A light Italian or Rhone red would be lovely, or any number of dry white wines. Award-winning Abacela Albarino 2020 from Oregon's Umpqua Valley is just lovely with the dish. You'll find this light and dry Albarino with no residual sugar and just 13% alcohol, to be a beautifully complimentary weight for this lighter pasta. Fresh fruit and floral aromas and a nice acidity bring the experience into graceful balance.
1lb.orecchiette or other small pastause gluten free pasta if you choose
3cupspumpkin puree (two 15 oz. cans)
½cupdry white wine
1bunchcurly or lacinato kale, large ribs removed, chopped into 1" pieces
salt + pepper to taste
Make the Sausage
Crumble the ground chicken into a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, mix remaining herbs and spices. Sprinkly the herbs and spices over the ground chicken and drizzle with the olive oil. Rinse your hands in cold water and gently knead the spices into the ground chicken until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
Make the Pasta and Sauce
Put a large pot of generously salted water on to boil for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, in a wide pan brown the sausage mixture in olive oil-- enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently, breaking up the sausage into bite-sized bits. This should take 6-8 minutes. Remove cooked sausage and juices to a plate and set aside.
In the same wide pan heat another swirl of olive oil. Saute the minced shallot in the olive oil until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, white wine, and salt to taste. Stir together and heat until gently bubbling.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. This may happen before or after the pumpkin mixture has come together.
When the pasta is cooked al dente (it will finish cooking in the sauce, so don't overcook it!) reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. (Don't forget this step, as it helps make a beautiful silky sauce!) Drain the pasta and return it to its cooking pot.
Add the chopped kale and cooked sausage and its juices back into the pan with the pumpkin mixture and stir in one cup of the pasta water. Scrape the sausage/pumpkin mixture into the cooked pasta and stir. Add enough more of the reserved pasta water to create a smooth, silky sauce that evenly coats the pasta. The pasta will continue to absorb the liquid, so be generous. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve in a large serving dish or in individual pasta bowls.
It is conceivable to garnish this dish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, however my cheese-loving husband says this is the "cheesiest pasta with no cheese" he's ever eaten! Omitting it makes the dish dairy-free. If you'd prefer, you can use store-bought hot Italian chicken sausage, but this is such an easy and delicious sausage recipe I do hope you'll give it a try.
Carrot Risotto + Green Garlic Sauce is just right for the spring feasts that are about to begin-- Passover is concluding, Easter is this weekend, Earth Day is around the corner, and Mother's Day is soon to follow. Today was our first glorious 70-degree day in Oregon's Willamette Valley, and everything green and growing is excited. Flowers, grasses, early vegetables, and weeds. Did I mention weeds?
Each step toward spring unleashes an undesirable field of weeds. My two hands can't pluck fast enough. Maybe my heart and mind need a little weeding, too, to make space for a goldmine of more desirable growth.
Whether your spring celebrations are about freedom from bondage, the resurrection of a savior, or your motherly origins-- Mother Earth or your earthly mom-- you need a good feast. 24-Karat Carrot Risotto + Green Garlic Sauce is a luxurious and celebratory substitute for scalloped potatoes or kugel worthy of becoming a tradition.
Carrot Risotto + Green Garlic Sauce Kitchen Notes
Sometimes the visual length of a recipe can stop people from making it. Don't let that stop you here. I've just broken the carrot risotto recipe into tiny digestible pieces. I tell you more than you may need to know-- color, scent, and what to look for each step of the way. Skim over these details if you are comfortable, and you'll relish these queues if this is new ground you're digging. This recipe is naturally gluten free, and no one will notice that it is easily made dairy free and vegan.
Happy spring feasting. Happy weeding, be it outside or in.
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Make the carrot stock
Place the roughly chopped carrots in a small saucepan with 5 cups water. Generously salt the water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and cover with a lid. Allow carrots to cook about 15 minutes, until fork tender but not falling apart. Using an immersion blender (stick blender) or traditional blender, blend the carrots into to cooking water until perfectly smooth. Keep warm and set aside.
Make the Risotto
While the stock is cooking, prep the shallot and garlic. In a large saucepan or saucier over medium heat, combine the butter and olive oil. Add the rice and sauted, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until the rice becomes opaque and fragrant. Add the shallot and garlic, stirring frequently, until they become translucent. The rice will continue to toast and become light beige while the shallot and garlic cook. Medium heat and frequent stirring will avoid any of the ingredients from deeply browning or burning at this point.
Add the dry white wine, stirring vigorously. Once it is nearly absorbed, begin adding one ladleful at a time of the warm carrot broth, stirring very frequently, until it is nearly absorbed, then repeat adding broth and stirring until the rice grains have cooked to al dente-- "to the tooth," meaning the centers still have a little bit of chewiness. If you use all the carrot broth and the rice isn't yet cook through, add water and cook, stirring all the time, until it reached your desired texture. By all means, avoid letting the pot go to overcooked mush.
In a small skillet or sauted pan, gently cook the small-diced carrots in butter until barely becoming tender, about 5 minutes over medium heat. You still want a little crunch to them, and they will add a nice texture contrast to the creamy risotto.
Place the carrot risotto in a serving bowl. Top with the pretty little carrot squares. Place a generous spoonful of green garlic sauce on top. Set remaining sauce on the table.
Make it Your Own:For a completely vegan dish, replace butter with olive oil.The white wine is optional, but makes a lovely difference if you can use it.This recipe does not include the traditional Parmesan cheese, but if dairy is not your concern, add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan to the finished risotto, and garnish with more on top if you'd like. If you have dairy-free people at your table, don't add it to the pot-- simply set out a bowl of grated Parmesan for the dairy-eaters to use on their portions. The green garlic can be replaced with scallions, or any number of fresh herbs. Mint would be lovely.
Welcome to the launch of 101-Mile Kitchen. Just as this Modern Pasta Primavera recipe represents springtime renewal, 101-Mile Kitchen is a new beginning for me. I formerly blogged as Sticks Forks Fingers beginning in 2009. Sticks Forks Fingers journaled my early experiences as a country dweller, my love for great food and great wine, my love of Oregon and its thriving food culture, and stories of falling in love with the man who became my husband.
101-Mile Kitchen will follow that thread, including recipes developed to encourage readers to cultivate their cooking intuition and confidence. The recipes you see here are developed to give you confidence to play, learn, and grow.
On these pages you will also meet some of my heroes-- the growers and makers who keep our community fed and happy. I hope this will encourage you to seek out the special people who dedicate their lives to growing and making food, wine, beer, and the like in your area, no matter where you live.
And, of course, you'll read stories about being in love, which come to learn is a whole different thing than falling in love. Cooking and loving, to me, are completely intertwined and provide magical opportunities to reflect on one another.
What is so Modern About this Pasta Primavera Recipe?
The premiere recipe for 101-Mile Kitchen is a Modern Pasta Primavera. Primavera, the Italian word for springtime, signals the new beginning cycle of growth we can count on year after year, no matter what else is going on in the world. The daffodils poke up their perky heads no matter what. If that isn't hopeful, I don't know what is.
Tender pasta squares make a bed for the sprightly vegetables. A sauce of pancetta, butter, white wine, and bright green herbs bath the the dish. (Be sure to check the recipe card for gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian options.) Softly boiled "jammy" eggs contribute to the sauce giving it even more of a springtime feel of the dish. It truly is one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.
If you like this recipe, please give it a rating by clicking the green stars in the recipe card below. And I invite you to follow my newsletter by signing up in the box at the bottom of the page. You'll receive a gift of my Flavors of Oregon tartine recipe booklet as soon as you do.
Modern Pasta Primavera
Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Main Dish
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Prep Time: 30minutes
Cook Time: 30minutes
Servings: 4to 6
A deconstructed take on a classic, featuring early spring vegetables and a delicious new sauce.
4smallartichokes, leaves and choke removed to expose heart, and cut into eighthsor 1 12-14 ounce can or jar of artichoke hearts
1poundfava beans, removed from their pods (optional)or edamame
12ouncesfresh or frozen peas
1 headfennel, sliced into fans through the root end
12 - 16ouncesfresh egg pasta sheets, or other pasta of your choice
salt for pasta water and to taste
6 Tbspunsalted butter or ghee
4ouncespancetta, finely diced
2clovesgarlic, thinly sliced
1largeshallot, finely minced
½cupdry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 bunchfresh chives
1 bunchfresh dill
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the Eggs
Cover the eggs with water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. For perfect jammy eggs, allow to boil for 7 minutes. While they are cooking prepare a bowl with ice water. After the eggs boil for 6 ½ minutes, remove them from the boiling water into the ice bath. Leave them in the ice bath for 10 minutes. Remove them from the water, peel them, slice them in half, and them set aside.
Get the Vegetables Ready
Prepare all the vegetables: Peel the asparagus stems with a peeler if they are the chubby variety, and trim or snap off the woody ends. Pull off the leaves from the artichokes, scrape out the fuzzy chokes with a spoon, and trim the stem with a peeler. Remove the fava beans from their pods. Slice the fennel bulb into ½ inch fans down through the stem end. The peas will be added to the sauce later.
Place a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. When it comes to a boil drop in the asparagus and let cook until bright green and just starting to be tender, about 4-5 minutes; remove an set aside. Drop in the shelled fava beans (or edamame) and cook 6 minutes until tender; remove and set aside. When the fava beans are cool enough to handle, slip them out of their waxy skin. Drop in the artichoke heart wedges (if using fresh artichokes) and cook until tender, about 6 minutes; remove and set aside. Keep the water at a low boil.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter into a 10" skillet or saucier over medium heat. When it begins to bubble, add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until the pancetta has rendered some of its fat and is beginning to lightly brown.
Add the sliced fennel to the skillet, and cook until just translucent, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes.
Add the sliced garlic and minced shallot to the skillet, stirring often, until they are just beginning to become translucent, about 3 more minutes.
Add the white wine and about a teaspoon of salt and ground pepper (to taste) to the sauce, stirring until the wine has reduced about half. (The fennel will absorb some of it.)
Add the fresh or frozen peas to the sauce, cooking for one minute. Stir the finely minced chives and dill into the sauce, reserving a tablespoon of each for garnish. Turn the heat to low while you cook the pasta.
Bring the pot of water back to a full boil. Cut the pasta sheets into 3" squares, drop them into the boiling water, and cook according to package directions. (Most fresh sliced garlic and minced shallot to the skillet, pasta only takes 90 seconds to cook.) Drain pasta and set aside.
Assembling the Dish
On a pretty platter, lay out the cooked pasta squares. Arrange the asparagus, artichoke hearts, fava beans, peas, and fennel over the pasta. Spoon the sauce over the vegetables and pasta. Arrange the halved eggs over the top, and garnish with the remaining fresh herbs.
Make It Your Own:Fava beans are wonderful, yet they can be hard to find and do add a little work to this dish. Feel free to omit them, or swap in edamame.Prepping fresh artichokes to get to their hearts also adds a lot of time to this dish. For a shortcut substitute frozen, canned or jarred artichoke hearts (marinated or not.). Thick stemmed asparagus is preferred, but use what's available. Gluten-free option: use your favorite GF pasta.Vegetarian option: omit the pancetta.The success of this dish lies in not overcooking any of the vegetables. They are young and tender, and don't need much time on the heat to be perfect.
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.