Simple sweet and sour
Easily dress up squash, kebabs, and more -- Sicilian-style.
The flavor duo of sour and sweet, called agrodolce in Italian, is a hallmark of Sicilian cooking, and the sauce of the same name is a popular dressing for vegetables, chicken, fish, and even for some meats, such as the lamb in the kebabs below.
The two primary elements are usually vinegar and sugar, though other sour and sweet ingredients (lemon, raisins, honey) also come into play. The squash dish is something I learned in cooking school, but in my mind, the eggplant relish called caponata is the Godfather of sour-sweet dishes. Usually used as a side dish, it also makes a fantastic bruschetta topping with goat cheese or ricotta.
Sweet and Sour Squash
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if necessary
1 medium butternut squash (about 2½ pounds), peeled, seeds removed, and cut into ½-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2½ tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil
In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it ripples. Add a single layer of squash and cook until lightly browned and tender, about 10 minutes, turning slices over once halfway through cooking. Remove the cooked squash to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat this process to cook the remaining batches.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add another tablespoon of olive oil if the pan looks dry, and add the garlic, cooking and stirring constantly until fragrant but not browned, about 45 seconds. Add the vinegar and sugar, swirl the skillet to dissolve the sugar, bring to a simmer, and cook, swirling frequently, until the mixture is syrupy, about 1½ minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
On a serving platter, arrange the squash and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the squash, sprinkle with the mint or basil, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 5 cups
1 large globe eggplant (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large, ripe tomato, cored, seeded, grated, and skins discarded (about 1¼ cups)
½ cup Kalamata or green olives, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup golden raisins
¼ cup red wine vinegar, or more to taste
2½ tablespoons brown sugar
3 large celery ribs, diced
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
In a colander set over a bowl, toss the eggplant with 1½ tablespoons salt. Place another bowl over the eggplant in the colander, weigh down the bowl, and allow the eggplant to drain for 1 to 2 hours. Rinse the eggplant under running water, and dry well with paper towels.
In a very large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil until it ripples. Add half of the eggplant and cook, without stirring, until the bottoms of the cubes brown, about 3 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is almost cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Remove the eggplant to a medium bowl, return the skillet to the heat, and repeat with another 1½ tablespoons of olive oil and the rest of the eggplant.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and heat until it ripples. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato pulp, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in the olives, capers, and raisins, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar, brown sugar, celery, ¾ teaspoon salt, and cooked eggplant, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery is tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Season with pepper to taste, and cool to warm or room temperature.
Taste the caponata and adjust seasoning with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if necessary. Add the parsley and nuts, stir to mix, and serve at room temperature.
Grilled Lamb and Peach Kebabs with Currant Vinaigrette
Makes 8 10-inch kebabs
Choose peaches that are ripe but firm, so they won’t turn to mush on the grill.
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons ground coriander
2¼ teaspoons ground cumin
Salt and pepper
2½ pounds boneless lamb leg, trimmed of fat and cut into 1½-inch pieces
1/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ tablespoons honey
3 large peaches, each cut into 8 chunks
2 medium red onions, each cut into 8 chunks
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
In a large bowl, mix 1/3 cup of the olive oil, garlic, coriander, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper to blend. Add the lamb, toss to coat evenly with the marinade, cover the bowl, and refrigerate until needed, at least 4 hours (or up to 24 hours).
About an hour before serving, in a medium bowl, cover the currants with hot water and then set aside to soften, about 10 minutes. Drain the currants and return them to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, honey, remaining ¼ teaspoon cumin, 1/3 cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, and whisk vigorously, making sure to blend the honey thoroughly, and set aside.
Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, gently toss the peaches and onions with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Using 2 skewers at a time (see Kitchen Aide), thread alternating pieces of lamb, onion, and peach, starting and ending with lamb or onion and making sure that the pieces are not mashed tightly against one another; repeat with the remaining lamb, onion, and peach on the remaining skewers.
Grill the kebabs, turning them every 4 minutes, until the peaches and onions are tender and grill-marked and the lamb is well-browned but still pink inside (medium-rare), about 12 minutes. Remove kebabs from grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Add the mint to the currant dressing, whisk to re-blend, and serve kebabs at once, drizzling with the dressing.
Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at firstname.lastname@example.org.