As we move into another fall, a couple of things are on our plate in addition to our normal operations. We’re working hard on harvest pickling – it has been a fun couple of weeks so far of purchasing, processing and canning. We’re refining our recipes and getting a little more inventive this year with our pickles and preserves. We’re working on building a pantry shelf in our stand to help house all of the new jars. On the garden front, it’s a bit of an inverse time of year for that kind of thing, but we’re talking about garlic! This project should bear some wonderful fruit next year – we’re working on growing a large patch of garlic that we’re going to sell at market and use in our prep. Thanks a million to Bill Hatten for donating copious land, labour, and love!
We’re excited for the spring and all the fresh new produce we’ll be growing and getting this year. One of the more exciting but lesser known native Ontario crops comes right at the beginning of the growing season. Wild leeks, or ramps, are a North American native member of the allium (onion) family. They are more often than not the first budding plants in their region for the year, so the best time to spot a patch is by looking around soon after the spring thaw. Since these guys are so delectable, with a mildly onion-like but very distinct flavour, they are unfortunately over-harvested. This combined with their long gestation / maturation time – a wild leek plant takes a few years to settle in – means that you should only ever pick a few at a time, and the largest ones in the patch at that. If you should be so lucky, clean them up and separate the tops from the stems. The tops make a wonderful pesto, and the stems can be sliced and lightly cooked to add a wonderful springtime “onion/garlic yet not” flavour to almost any dish. Alternatively, pickle the stems for a snappy crunchy snack. We owe it to these plants to enjoy them in moderation, though, or we won’t be enjoying anything at all. Just remember the best things come in small doses!
Caponata is a Sicilian dish used all around the Mediterranean region. Traditionally it consists of fried chopped eggplant as the base of the dish. Added to this is a bit of celery and onion, capers, and vinegar. These are cooked together and cooled to make a stewy sweet and sour salad.
Our take on caponata in the Casablanca sandwich is from a Moroccan angle (the sandwich being named for the largest city in the country.) We use diced butternut squash as the base for our preparation. The squash is lightly sauteed in oil with diced onions until semi-soft. To this base we add chopped kalamata olives, tomato paste, cocoa powder, lemon zest, and sultana raisins soaked in vinegar. Then the raisin vinegar goes in. This mixture cooks together for five to ten minutes just to allow the flavours to marry. The whole thing is then cooled and stored, and re-warmed for sandwiches.
The result is a hearty mixture but with a simultaneously sharp and smooth flavour. The richness of the squash, tomato, and cocoa are nicely balanced with the sweetness from the raisins, the saltiness of the olive, and the acid of the vinegar and lemon. Warm it up a bit, slap it between two slices of bread, add some fresh goat’s cheese and grilled zucchini, and you have our latest sandwich!