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A bowl of caponata with slices of bread

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.

Pan-smoked oysters at King Estate

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?

Caponata pizza on the grill.

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.

Cubed vegetables for caponata on the grill.
Just getting started on the grill.

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!

When you make this recipe, please show it off to our 101-Mile Kitchen community! Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook or Instagram, @101milekitchen. Speaking of that, have you joined the community? If not, we'd love to have you. You can take care of that right here, and when you do I'll send you a free Taste of Oregon appetizers recipe downloadable as a thank you!

Other Grilling Recipes You Might Enjoy

Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine, and Burrata Salad

Grilled Peppers, White Beans, Feta + Herb Sauce

This post contains affiliate links. When you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission at no cost to you. Product affiliation helps me to keep this site ad-free while providing you with the content you enjoy. I only promote items that I use, like, and trust, or would invest in myself.

A bowl of caponata with slices of bread

Oregon-Style Smoky Caponata

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Pacific Northwest
Season: Bounty (August - October)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 8
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.
Print Recipe

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, skin on, large diced
  • 1 large red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, seeded, large diced
  • ½ large purple onion, large diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, ripe, large diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped into large pieces
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or white wine or red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons capers
  • ¼-⅓ cup black oil-cured olives, green Castelvetrano, or Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup mixed fresh oregano and basil, roughly chopped

Instructions

  • 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.
A top-down photo of a bowl of red tomato soup in a white bowl.

Yesterday I shared with you The World's Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich, made with garlicky greens, caramelized onion, and brie. It's only fitting that you have The World's Best Tomato Soup recipe to go with it. The two are a match made in heaven.

A Word About Canned Tomatoes

I've driven Interstate Five through California's agricultural regions many times. Enough times to see truckloads of produce pulling off the highway into the many canneries there. May I tell you that not all canned tomatoes are of the same quality? I've observed truckload after truckload of hard pink balls in the truck-trailers. It's not hard to know how they will perform in flavor and texture next to their red, ripe cousins. My practical observation is that you truly get what you pay for in canned tomatoes. Unless you use a lot of canned tomatoes, the price differential is relatively small. It might not make that much difference in a stew with lots of other flavors, but here's my rule of thumb: If the word tomato is in the title of the food I'm making, like tomato sauce, for example or the world's best tomato soup, I spend the extra dollar.

Making the World's Best Tomato Soup

tomato soup with garlicky greens and brie grilled cheese sandwich

First, lets talk equipment. This is a time when an immersion blender is more than handy. Yes, you can blend the soup in batches in either a food processor or blender. However, a stick blender will get the job done and reduce the amount of cleanup you'll have. I've not met a cook yet who would argue with that!

Because it's still late winter I used dried herbs and a bay leaf, which also gets blended into the soup, but in the growing season, trade those herbs out for fresh basil, fresh thyme, or any of the tender, leafy herbs that suit you.

Two other touches make the soup extra special. I save parmesan rinds for times like this. Just throw one in during the short simmering period for an extra flavor boost. The rind will soften and become somewhat gooey looking, but holds together just fine and can easily be fished out prior to blending. If you don't have a parm rind on hand that's just fine. The soup is still lovely so don't let that stop you from making it. The second bit of magic comes with a hearty drizzle of balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch.

The olive oil in here gives it a creamy texture and appearance, but if you love a splash of milk or cream in your tomato soup, by all means use it.

If you like this recipe, please leave it a star rating by clicking on the green stars below the title in the recipe card below. If you like the 101-Mile Kitchen project, I'd be honored if you subscribed to the newsletter!

A platter holding all the ingredients for The World's Best Tomato Soup
a top-down photo of a bowl of red tomato soup in a white bowl.

The World's Best Tomato Soup

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Soup + Stew
Cuisine: American
Season: All Season
Dietary: Gluten-Free
Preparation: Fast + Easy, One Pot/One Pan
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4
A few special touches make this recipe the only one you need for The World's Best Tomato Soup!
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp. flour, rice flour, or 1-to-1 GF flour
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes and their juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 parmesan rind, optional
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté until the onion has softened and is starting to become translucent. Add the garlic, thyme, basil and bay leaf and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and sauté, stirring for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and their juices, the water, optional parmesan rind, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove the parmesan rind and blend the soup using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender. If using a food processor or blender, blend in batches. Blend until the soup is fairly smooth, but still has a slight amount of tomato texture. Remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Serve piping hot.
tomato soup with garlicky greens and brie grilled cheese sandwich

I often make soup and some kind of grilled sandwich or panini for supper in the cool weather months, and this week's sandwich was a true hit. Garlicky greens and caramelized onion grilled cheese made with creamy brie is a rather fancy sandwich. I'm going so far to say this is the world's best grilled cheese to date.

Inspiration for Special Grilled Cheese

In my town there is one special spot that adds so much to my experience of living here. Provisions Market Hall is a beautiful place full of gastronomical goodness and so much more. Inside is a gorgeous florist, a wine shop, a beautiful kitchen and gift shop, a specialty foods grocery complete with lovely cheeses and charcuterie, freshly baked breads and pastries, wood oven baked pizzas with bubbly crusts, a coffee shop, and delicious lunch items. Provisions is a place of visual wonder, yes, but also offers practical support to the entire spectrum of us who cook and offer hospitality at home. When you visit Eugene, you just must visit Provisions.

I met a friend for lunch there last week ordered their chard and brie grilled sandwich special. It was so delicious I couldn't wait to try making it at home. I used kale because that's what I had on hand. Chard, kale, or even spicy mustard greens would each be gladly received in this glorious sandwich.

If you're a fan of the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese combination, this is the sandwich you'll want going forward. The slightly bitter greens, sweet earthy caramelized onion, and bloomy brie are the perfect foil to tomato soup. Tomorrow I'll share my recipe for the best tomato soup so you'll have the matched set.

Making the Garlicky Greens and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese

There is nothing tricky here. Caramelize a few onions, cook some greens, and layer them on top of brie. Using a really good bread will also make a difference, so try for that, too.

grilled greens, onion, and brie sandwich with bowl of tomato soup

Other Soups to Serve with Garlicky Greens and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese

World's Best Tomato Soup. Get the recipe here.
Winter White Vegetable Soup. Get the recipe here.
Pumpkin Black Bean Soup. Get the recipe here.

ingredients needed for garlicky greens, caramelized onion, and brie grilled cheese sandwich
tomato soup with garlicky greens and brie grilled cheese sandwich

Garlicky Greens, Caramelized Onion, and Brie Grilled Cheese

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish, Quick + Easy
Cuisine: American, French
Season: All Season
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 2 to 3 sandwiches
This gussied-up grilled cheese sandwich levels up your tomato soup and grilled cheese game.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
  • 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch chard, kale, or mustard greens ribs removed, chopped into about 1" pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • salt + pepper to taste
  • teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • sliced pain de mie or artisan bread, 2 per person
  • 5-6 ounces brie, sliced ¼" thick

Instructions

  • In a large skillet heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Place the sliced onions in the skillet, sprinkle on several pinches of salt, and allow them to sit undisturbed for several minutes. When the bottom is beginning to brown, turn them, and once again allow them to brown undisturbed for several minutes. Continue this for about 15 minutes until the onions are soft and golden brown throughout.
  • While the onions are caramelizing, in another large skillet heat another 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Place the chopped greens in the skillet, and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens have cooked down about 1/3, or are beginning to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the vinegar.
  • Lay the bread out on a work surface, and lay slices of brie on one side. Divide the sautéed greens among the sandwiches over the brie, then divide the caramelized onions over the brie. Cover each sandwich with its remaining bread slice.
  • Wipe out the skillet that the greens were cooked in with a paper towel, and heat the remaining Tbsp. olive oil in it over medium heat. Place the sandwiches in the skillet and cook each side until golden brown and crispy. Cut sandwiches in half and serve with tomato soup or simple salad or fruit.

Notes

Left over cooked greens and caramelized onions store well for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. 
Platter Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy on table with wine glasses and bottle of wine.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy involves roasting quartered parsnips until partly chewy, partly crispy. A brown gravy smothers all good poutines. This one is a rich mushroom gravy redolent with shallots and herbs. Top the poutine off with Beaver Classic cheese curds, a project of Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, or any cheese curd or melting cheese you chose.

This recipe is designed for a very special group of people who started out as neighbors and became dear friends. Ever since we moved to the 101-Mile Kitchen we gather frequently to relax, shoot the breeze, eat and drink. This recipe is a thank you to these amazing souls who have kept my heart from drooping during the last 20 months of living in an upside down world, and to the universe for putting us in each other's paths.

Besides being funny, smart, and caring, our neighbors all enjoy cooking great food and drinking nice wine. (There might be a splash of bourbon here and there, too.) Sometimes we have a full-on meal, but most often we meet over easy noshes, charcuterie, spreads and dips, and casual dishes. I can't wait to make this poutine for them.

Overhead closeup photo of Parsnip Poutine with Rich Mushroom Gravy.

What is the Best Pairing?

While it makes a terrific main course at its heart poutine is bar food and doesn't need a precious pairing. I'd suggest a Southern Rhone style blend. This time I served the poutine with a very inexpensive ($13) 2017 Château Saint-Estève Cuvée Classique Corbières Rouge-- a nice old world 60% Grenache- 40% Syrah blend. It is lively, with whispers of herbs and deep fruit that compliment the umami and herbal flavors in the gravy.

Quady North GSM from Oregon's Rogue Valley and Reininger Helix SoRho from Washington are some of our favorite American GSM producers.

Of course most ales and beers are also delightful with poutine.

Making the Poutine + Gravy

Image of all the ingredients needed to make the parsnip poutine + rich mushroom gravy: parsnips, dried mushrooms, rosemary, shallot, flour, thyme, garlic, and cheese curds.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy is another of those one-hour wonders. It takes maybe ten minutes to prep the ingredients, 16 minutes in the oven to get the parsnips on their tender and crunchy way while the mushrooms rehydrate, and another 15 or 20 minutes to make the gravy while the parsnips are finishing off. A foil-lined sheet pan, a large pan, a knife, and a bowl are the only tools used so clean-up is speedy.

Parsnips and shallots grow just about anywhere, so they should fit in to most people's imaginary 101-mile sourcing radius. You can find dried Porcini mushrooms at many groceries and online. My favorite source is Pistol River Mushroom Farm in Southern Oregon. Dried mushrooms seem expensive until you realize that one ounce of dried mushrooms is equal to 8 ounces of fresh. The dark color of the soaking liquid becomes the intensely flavored broth for the gravy-- something a fresh mushroom just can't do.

As an aside, tuck this mushroom gravy recipe away to use in many other ways. I can't wait to ladle it onto a split and fluffed baked potato one cold winter's day.

Parsnip Poutine with Rich Mushroom Gravy on a platter, surrounded by wine bottle and glasses.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish
Season: Bounty (August - October), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: One Pot/One Pan, Roasting
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
You'd never know there was no meat in this rich silky poutine gravy, and the crunchy, chewy roasted parsnips take it to new but familiar places. A fantastic main or "bar food" course for vegans and omnivores alike.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. parsnips
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, or other dried cooking mushroom
  • 12 oz. shallot, approximately 4 large peeled and sliced ½" thick
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
  • tablespoons GF One-for-One flour, rice flour, or all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ lb. cheese curds, or goat cheese

Instructions

For the Parsnips

  • Preheat the oven to 400° convection and line a baking sheet with foil.
  • Trim and peel the parsnips. Quarter them lengthwise, and if they are especially thick, cut them again into eighths. Lay them out on the foil lined baking sheet, and drizzle them generously with olive oil. Toss them with your hands to evenly cover them in the olive oil, and spread them out flat at much as possible. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and black pepper. Bake for 16 minutes, and them flip them over. Reduce the oven heat to 350°. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper, and drizzle olive oil on any parts that look parched. Sprinkle the rosemary leaves over the parsnips and return to the oven for another 16-20 minutes. Check them often for doneness-- the thick tops will be browned and tender, the thin ends will be well browned and somewhat crispy.

For the Mushroom Shallot Gravy

  • As soon as the parsnips are in the oven, place the dried porcini in a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl, and cover with hot tap water to the 3-cup mark. Set aside.
  • Heat enough olive oil over medium-high heat to generously cover the bottom of a sauteuse or large pan. Slide in the sliced shallots and leave without turning until the bottoms are browned. Stir, flipping them over, and again allow them to brown. After the first ten minutes add the minced garlic, thyme, and a 4-finger pinch of salt. Continue the browning process until the shallots are completely tender but not mushy, and have a good amount of browned caramelization throughout.
  • Stir in the flour, and continuously stir until the flour is well incorporated and beginning to stick to the pan. Stir for about three minutes.
  • Gradually ladle in the soaked mushrooms and their dark brown soaking liquid, stirring between ladlefuls, until it it incorporated. You will see the gravy begin to thicken immediately-- stir throughout this process to avoid any lumps.
  • Stirring frequently, bring the gravy to a boil, and add some more salt. There should be about one teaspoon total in the gravy, or to taste. Add a very generous amount of black pepper to season. Allow the gravy to bubble and thicken for about 6 minutes.

Bring it All Together

  • Arrange the roasted parsnips on a large warmed platter in a spiky spoke-like fashion. Ladle the hot gravy in the center. Arrange the cheese curds over the gravy, and top with a bunch of thyme for garnish. Serve while piping hot.

Do you have a show-stopping dish in your cooking bag of tricks?

You'll know the recipe. People lean forward over their plates to inhale its aroma and turn their focus to their fork or spoon. A hush falls over the table. An eater's brow becomes furrowed in concentrated curiosity, quiet little sighs or hums bubble up as a delicate soundtrack to the moment. Time becomes momentarily suspended.

All of a sudden, that focused calm breaks into cheery chatter and conviviality brighter than before. Life goes on with this one subtle experience tucked into it. And this is when you know.

That's my signature recipe.

And this is why you cook.

curried slalmon cakes, coconut rice, and mango chutney on plates

Today's signature recipe joins one I shared years ago-- Winter-Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes. Both are no-fail winners.

Credit for this recipe goes to our friend Larry Deck. He once served it as a late-night New Year's Eve dinner and I was transfixed. The brightness of the homemade chutney and light curry notes in the salmon cakes was a sunny counterpoint to that dark winter night.

It highly likely that I let out a long, deep hhhmmmmmmmm that night.

This recipe was also a super-fun contest winner for me. See more about that here. (And thank you again, King Estate, for the lovely experience!)

Wine Pairing: Growers + Makers

Curried Salmon Cakes, Mango Chutney, and Coconut Rice is a heavenly match with any of King Estate's Pinot Gris'. I am especially fond of their Domaine Pinot Gris with its pear, tangerine and Meyer lemon peel aromas and flavors, clean minerality, and silky texture. My husband and I featured the Domaine Pinot Gris at our wedding day brunch.

Just like today's recipe trio, this wine is full of happy memories.

The salmon cakes, chutney, and rice make an all-season dish, but I most often make it in late spring when the market is flush with fresh ripe mangoes and Copper River salmon are making their first run. The gingery coconut rice got added over the years and creates a truly perfect flavor and texture triad.

Good to note is that the mango chutney is fantastic with roasted pork and on a cheese platter, and the chartreuse-colored rice will make its way into your rotation apart from the salmon cake and chutney elements.

Any type of salmon you can access is just right for this dish. You're really in luck if your fish market sells salmon trimmings by the bag at a discount, which are perfect since a filet gets chopped anyway. With all of the flavorful ingredients added, the subtleties among salmon varieties can be lost. Go with what you've got.

There is nothing technically challenging about producing this meal. I suggest, however, that you plan it on a long afternoon devoted to zenning out in your kitchen, or when you have a pal available to help with the chopping. All three meal components need quite a bit of chopping!

What is your show-stopping signature dish? If you yet don't yet have one, what would you like it to be?

curried salmon cakes, mango chutney, and coconut rice on a plate

Curried Salmon Cakes + Mango Chutney + Coconut Rice

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish
Cuisine: Fusion, Indian, Pacific Northwest
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 1
An all-season Pacific Northwest/Southern Indian fusion full of tropical flavors. The ingredient list looks long, but this is an easy make-ahead dish that wows family and guests alike. Make your cakes small for a great appetizer version! This recipe pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Gris and other dry white wines.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Mango Chutney

  • 2 cups fresh mango, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • ¼ cup fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup rice or coconut vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes or Piment d' Espelette

Curried Salmon Cakes

  • lbs. skinless salmon filet, cut into 1/2“" pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. minced Italian parsley
  • ½ cup cilantro, stems and leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 scallions/green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • ½ cup tart apple, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne or Piment d' Espelette
  • tsp. Madras curry powder
  • 1 cup panko or gluten-free panko crumbs, divided (½ cup for the salmon mixture, the rest to coat the uncooked cakes)
  • ½ - 1 tsp. salt to taste
  • ¼ cup canola or olive oil, for cooking

Coconut Rice

  • cups Basmati rice
  • 1 13.5 oz. can light coconut milk
  • 1-2 tsp. fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp. fresh turmeric, peeled and minced (optional) OR Find this at an Indian or Asian grocer, and at places like Whole Foods in your area.
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric (the dried spice) If fresh turmeric isn't available where you live.
  • 1 small serrano chili, seeded and minced (optional)

Instructions

Start with the Mango Chutney

  • Bring all ingredients to a boil in a non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat. The aroma will be vinegary-pungent at first, then will turn sweet and gingery. Turn the heat down and simmer until the liquid condenses and becomes thick and syrupy, stirring frequently, approximately 30-40 minutes.
  • The chutney thickens as it cools, and keeps in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Makes 2½ cups.

Now the Curried Salmon Cakes

  • Gently combine all ingredients EXCEPT ½ cup of the panko. Allow mixture to rest five minutes. (While you're waiting, now is a good time to start the rice!)
  • Place the remaining ½ cup panko onto a plate or shallow dish. Scoop up ½ cup of the salmon mixture and form into 3" cakes. Carefully coat each cake in panko crumbs. Allow the cakes to rest another five minutes. (The resting steps help the panko absorb to hold the cakes together/stick to the cakes and make them much easier to handle.)
  • Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until just starting to shimmer. Place salmon cakes, a few at a time to avoid crowding, in the skillet and cook without moving until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip cakes and cook without moving until the second side is golden brown, about another 3 minutes. (You should have eight cakes, or enough to serve four people.)

Make the Coconut Rice

  • Over the sink, rinse the rice in a fine-mesh strainer with cold water, stirring the rice with your fingers until the water runs clear. Put the rice in a medium saucepan.
  • Add the coconut milk, ginger, turmeric (fresh or dried), and serrano* to the saucepan (if using.) Bring to a full boil over high heat. cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Keep the lid on, and set the rice aside.

To Serve

  • Lay down a bed of rice in the center of each plate. Place two cakes on the rice. Top with generous spoonsful of warm mango chutney, and garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Notes

The salmon cakes and mango chutney are perfect with Oregon Pinot Gris and other dry white wines, and sparkling whites. 
All components can be made ahead-- perfect for entertaining. Rewarm the salmon cakes in a hot oven for a few minutes. Warm the rice and the chutney in lidded saucepans over medium-low heat. This, of course, works well for any leftovers, too.
Experiment using halibut or other white fish in place of the salmon.
*I suggest a pretty wide range of quantity for the ginger, turmeric, and serrano for the rice, as well as an option for dried ground turmeric if you can't find fresh. This rice is stellar with all of these added, but you have the freedom to choose to omit, increase, or reduce the quantity to suit your taste. We like it with its full-flavor, all-in, maxxed out goodness. 
The rice can be made with full-fat coconut milk, but it will of course have a heavier, oilier feel. If full-fat is what you have, please use it, but to try it once with light coconut milk. 

roasted artichokes in baking dish

Artichokes are another of the short-season wonders, and we try to eat as many as we can while they are available. This terrific artichoke recipe from Allison Roman's book Nothing Fancy is super easy, and makes the most succulent, juicy, and rich-tasting artichokes ever. It's nice to have a new addition to the 'choke repertoire. 

After making this a dozen times or more, I want to encourage you to free yourself from exact measurements, and think instead about ratios. Start with as many artichokes as you plan to serve. I encourage you to make extra while you're at it as they are fantastic cold or warmed up as leftovers.

Making the Wine-Roasted Artichoke Recipe

First, think big as far as your baking dish goes. It's surprising how much space the halved artichokes need for their flat surfaces to touch the pan. From there, just think in terms of having about 1/4-inch of wine in the bottom of the pan around the artichokes, to which you'll add another 1/4-inch of water. (I use Sarver Winery Pinot Gris for this-- my favorite from our neighboring winery!) You'll generously drizzle the artichokes with olive oil, and plop in maybe a half-tablespoon or more of butter for each artichoke half in the dish. Crush as many garlic cloves as you like-- we go big on garlic at this house, so perhaps 2 cloves for every artichoke half, and sprinkle the tops of them amply with kosher salt and red pepper flakes, or my favorite Aleppo pepper.

Aside from prepping the artichokes, the hands-on time is just a couple of minutes. Cover it in foil, bake in a 425 degree oven for 45-55 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. Remove the foil from the pan, and assess if it needs a little more water-- you don't want the pan to run dry but do want a reduced glaze to form. Then continue to roast them for another 15 minutes until they turn a deep mahogany, and the cooking liquid reduces into a garlicy little sauce you'll want to dip bread into.

roasted artichokes in baking dish

This is the Artichoke Recipe Choice for Part Givers

If you're hosting a gathering, this dish is for you! It can be made ahead, either the day of or the day before, and warmed back up at the last minute. The artichokes are equally charming served room temperature for warm-day entertaining. While the artichokes pair perfectly with most white wine varieties, they really shine served with the same Sarver Winery Pinot Gris they are cooked in.

Have you noticed what happens when a crowd of people eat with their fingers? It's a magical way to drop barriers and bring people together. Put a bowl on the table for guests to toss their tooth-scraped outer leaves into.

What shall I serve with Wine-Roasted Artichokes?

This dish makes a lovely first course, if you like stretching the table adventure out for hours like we do. It's also a perfect accompaniment to fish, chicken, or pork tenderloin. It is equally good as part of a vegetarian meal, served with a nutty rice pilaf or lemony pasta.

Guess what?

Wine-roasted fennel

This exact technique works to sweeten and juice-up fennel. Give it a try!

Other Springtime Recipes to Try

24-Karat Carrot Risotto: Get the recipe here.
Modern Pasta Primavera: Get the recipe here.
Lemony Asparagus White Bean Salad: Get the recipe here.

roasted artichokes in baking dish

Blissful Wine-Roasted Artichokes

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: Roasting
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
These super easy, garlicky, succulent, juicy, and rich-tasting artichokes are a great make-ahead dish, and are excellent paired with most white wines.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2-3 artichokes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp. butter or ghee
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, crushed with the broad side of a knife
  • pinch red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the over to 425°.
  • Trim the edible artichoke stem of any woody parts, leaving as much of it as you can. Snap off the bottom one or two layers of tough outer leaves. Use kitchen shears to trim the thorny ends of the remaining leaves, if any. With a serrated or chef's knife, cut about 1 ½" from the crown of the artichoke, exposing the yellowish and rosy interior.
  • Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, dig out the fuzzy choke of each half, removing all fuzzy bits. Some of the purple-tipped center leaves will come out, too. Place the cut side down into a large baking dish (don't underestimate the size of dish you'll need-- the cut artichokes take up a lot of space!)
  • Pour the wine, water, and olive oil over the artichokes. Add the butter, cut or pinched into pieces, and smashed garlic. Generously sprinkle each half with kosher salt, red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper, and black pepper. Cover tightly with foil and roast until the artichokes are fork-tender, about 45 minutes, depending on their size.
  • Remove the foil and continue to roast another 15 minutes or so until the liquid is mostly evaporated and the tops are a mahogany brown. Take care that the liquid doesn't entirely evaporate-- add a little water if needed.
  • To serve, scrape up the garlicky oil at the bottom of the baking dish to spoon on top of the artichokes.

Notes

Make it Your Own:
Use the same exact process for whole fennel bulbs. Very tasty! Perhaps experiment with other vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips, altering the roasting time depending on their tenderness. 
Dairy-free option: substitute olive oil for the butter. 

Just when the "Third Places" urban panning concept became the norm the whole world broke. The fantastic little coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and public squares where people meet to exchange ideas, have a good time, and solidify relationships shut down. All the people packed up their backpacks and man bags and retreated home to their first places.

Hanger steak with homemade hand-cut frite-- Perfection!

That was a year ago.

At first it was nice, right? Soft clothes, relaxed grooming habits and timelines, no commutes, more time with the family, pets, and houseplants was all right. With exception of the virtual school part that many of you have endured, there wasn't much to complain about in those first months, especially for us introverts.

Sous vide ribeye with mediocre frozen French fries.

Don't get me wrong-- my home is very, very nice. But as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. After 12 months of being trapped in it, there's a growing sense of malaise with my first space. So, I say to myself, what am I going to do about it? Whining isn't helping, sister, so get off your tuckus and figure this one out. It is novelty you're missing, I tell myself. If I look around, I might find some variety right here at home without spending any of the dimes that are lost under my sofa cushions.

Sous vide ribeye with just OK hand-cut oven-baked fries.

Here are five no and low-cost ways to inject novelty into our home spaces right now.

  1. Go through your cupboards and pantry and find all the fancy foodstuff you've been hoarding. That jar of homemade fig jam the neighbor gave you, the cute jar of honey with the chunk of honeycomb in it, and the fancy package of crackers? What are you waiting for? Get a nice cheese and give yourself an special little appetizer experience this weekend. That expensive box of Maldon salt hidden on the back of the shelf? Pour some into a pinch bowl and keep it out to fancify your finished dishes. Now is the time to drink the good wine and use the truffle oil, even if it's just on mac and cheese or frozen French fries.
  2. Do the same thing with bath products you've squirreled away. Glitz up your day-to-day routine by digging out these bougie things you've been saving. If a worldwide pandemic isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is. Smell nice. Use a new soap or soak and call it a fake-ation spa experience.
  3. Switch up your bedding. Rustle through your linen closet for stashed sheets, comforters, blankets, and bedspreads and exchange them for your day-to-day ones. What is old is new again. Go crazy mixing patterns and colors. Making things different is what this is all about. For that matter, why not sleep in the guest room for a week, just to shake up the routine? Almost anything divergent is helpful about now. It's only a temporary commitment meant to lift your spirits and see things anew.
  4. Do the spiff-and-swap throughout your space. Channel your inner Leanne Ford and snip some branches from your yard and put them on your table in the biggest jar you can find. If you've got your grandma's china or an unused set of dishes or top-shelf glassware, use them now. Would it make your space more alive to paint those shelves bright blue like you've always wanted? Channel your inner Rayman Boozer and do it. I recently swapped the art pieces around in our house, an easy ennui-busting solution with the cheer-rising effect I'd hoped for.
  5. Now that you've lifted your first space from the doldrums, what is the one aspirational thing you'd like to incorporate into your cooking cred, something that challenges your skills? Clear the deck this weekend, make a shopping list, and get ready to blow your own mind. How about adding the perfect European café steak-frites to your repertoire? Learn to sous vide a steak-- Lana at Lana Under Pressure is a great teacher. I do not typically make fried foods at home, so I also challenged myself to make perfect hand-cut French fries to replace the baked ones I usually do, and I can't wait to do this for friends once we become vaccine-worthy. It was fun, and gave me a new skill.

Homemade Authentic French Fries

Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine: French
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 22 minutes
Cook Time: 28 minutes
Servings: 4
Making real-deal French fries at home is fun! Make them to go with your European café-style sous-vide steak for perfect steak-frites.
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer

Ingredients

  • 2-3 large Russet potatoes per person
  • 3 liters canola or peanut oil
  • salt

Instructions

  • Scrub and peel the potatoes. To cut them into perfect French fries, square them up by trimming of the top, bottom and four sides of the potato to start with a block. Then, slice the potatoes into approximate 1/3 inch (less than 1/2 centimeter) slabs, and then cut the slabs into approximate 1/3 inch strips.
  • Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl of cold water. Leave for 15 minutes. This removes excess starch from the potatoes that would cause them to stick together when cooked, and helps them be extra crispy.
  • While the potatoes are soaking, pour the oil into a deep pot, at least 5 inches deep. Begin to heat the oil on medium heat.
  • After 15 minutes, drain and thoroughly rinse the potatoes. Lay them out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel. Dab them dry with another clean towel to remove all water from all sides of the cut potatoes.
  • Raise the heat under the pot to medium high. Bring the canola or peanut oil to 270°F (130°C) when measured with an instant-read thermometer.
  • First fry: Working in batches, place the dried cut potatoes into the hot oil. You may use a fry basket or mesh strainer to lower them into the oil, and to remove them from the oil. Blanch them for 8 minutes. They will look pale and flabby. That's OK! Lay them out on a baking sheet to cool, separating them with tongs.
  • Second fry: Raise the oil to 350°F (180°C.) Mind your temperature. When the oil is at temperature (use your instant-read thermometer again) place some of the blanched potatoes into the hot oil, being sure not to overcrowd them. You'll be doing this step in batches unless you're only cooking a few potatoes. Cook the potatoes until they are a nice medium-golden color, or to your liking.
  • Remove the potatoes with a strainer (or fry basket if you're using one) and put them into a large bowl.
  • Toss with a generous amount of your favorite salt, and serve while hot with excellent ketchup.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Add pepper, red chili flakes or paprika, garlic powder, or minced rosemary to the salt, or any combination of them to suit your tastes.
Sprinkle with truffle oil. If you do this, be sure to stand over it and inhale the beautiful scent that will waft up when the oil hits the hot French fries. 
Tip:
Mind your temperature along the way. If you're using a heavy pot as you should be, the temperature will want to climb and drop. You'll likely need to continuously keep an eye and make adjustments throughout the process. 
This is a hands-on, eyes-on process. To stay focused, don't attempt to multi-task!

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Welcome!

Photo of 101-Mile Kitchen blog owner.

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.

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