Sweet and Sour

June 17 – June 23, 2019

caponata plate

Monday:   Sicilian Caponata, Hot Sausage and Parmesan Crostini

Tues – Thurs:  Away at Leading Age Conference in Hershey

Alas, no pictures of a truly memorable meal that I didn’t cook

Friday:     Crabcakes, Cole Slaw – Cooked by Beez

Again, no pictures.  Great meal, wonderful hostess, great house.

Saturday:  Mary M’s for Dinner

chop on plat

Sunday:    Grill-Smoked Pork Chops with Cider Vinegar Gastrique, Grilled Peppers, and Mashed Fennel and Potatoes


There aren’t many pictures from this week (June 17 – 30).  I was on the road for a good bit of it, eating mediocre food at the Hershey Lodge and various other locations around Chocolate Town.

The meal of the week was at Mary’s beautiful home on Saturday.  Grilled lamb, root vegetables and a crisp summer vegetable salad that would have pleased a cave man and wonderfully pleasant conversation and temperatures.  You’ll have to weasel your way into Mary’s good graces to experience that, however.

Since I was away much of the week, I didn’t do much cooking.  To welcome me home Beez cooked some superb crab cakes.  But since it’s my blog, I’m going to pick my favorite thing that I cooked.  Well, actually my two, equally favorite and quite memorable things.  Both playing with the addictive taste of sweet-and-sour.

The Sicilian Caponata was different from previous caponatas I’ve put together and far better and, with its sweet-and-sour dressing, addictive.  It gave me a strong urge to drop everything and head to Sicily.  And who says vegetarians can’t gain weight?  If I had an unlimited supply of this caponata on hand, I would keep eating until I exploded.

But the smoked pork chops with gastrique were equally piquant (gastrique is essentially sweet-and-sour).  This gastrique would be good on anything this side of shoe leather and, in a pinch, marooned on an island with no food except this gastrique, my Ecco slip-ons would not be long for this world.

You owe it to yourself to try both of these recipes, to make friends with Mary, and to treat Beez well enough so that she will invite you over for her crab cakes.  As for me – come on over, I’ll cook for you anytime.


Sicilian Caponata

(adapted from Milk Street Magazine, July-August, 2019)

This dish blends Italian and North African flavors.  Just as the population of Sicily is a blend.  (There is a marvelous riff on this by Dennis Hopper in the film, “True Romance.”  The language and violence of this film are not for the faint of heart, but the interplay between Hopper and Christopher Walken is a classic of American film.  The film also features Gary Oldman as a pimp and a drug dealer with an accent floating somewhere between Mexico and Chicago’s South Side and proving that the man can play anything.

Timing:                      About 40 minutes (includes chopping)

Ingredients:             Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side

1 medium eggplant (1 lb. or so) trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 medium zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise and chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup lightly packed basil, torn

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons white sugar

Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Cut and chop the vegetables and measure out the red wine vinegar.

Put a large bowl near the stove – you’ll be placing the cooked vegetables and the dressing into this.

Place a 12-inch non-stick skillet over your largest burner.  Make sure you have a cover for that skillet handy.


In the non-stick skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil over medium until it shimmers.  Add the eggplant and 1 teaspoon of salt and stir and distribute in an even layer.  Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the eggplant is browned and tender (a skewer stuck into the largest piece should meet no resistance.  This will take about 12 minutes.  Transfer to the bowl with a slotted spoon.

In the same skillet, over medium-low, heat 1 more tablespoon of the oil until it shimmers and add the zucchini and ¼ teaspoon of salt, stir and spread evenly.  Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the zucchini is browned and tender.  This will take 6 minutes or so.  Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant.

In the same skillet over medium, heat the final tablespoon of oil until it shimmers, then add the onion and the bell pepper and ¼ teaspoon of salt.  Stir and spread evenly, then cover and cook, stirring every few minutes until lightly browned and softened – about 8 minutes.

At this point, add the vinegar, the sugar and the tomato paste and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Cook, stirring, until the liquid turns syrupy, about 1 ½ minutes.  Add to the bowl with the eggplant and zucchini and gently mix.

Taste and season with salt, pepper or sugar to taste.  Serve warm (we did) or at room temperature, stirring in the basil just before you serve.

chop on grill


Grill-Smoked Pork Chops with Cider Vinegar Gastrique

(adapted from Milk Street Magazine, July-August, 2019)

If you enjoy the action of grilling, this is a recipe for you.  With very little expenditure of energy, you’ll still have a chance to flip the chops, move around the grill and get them to look as mahogany as you like.

Timing:          1 or 2 hours to marinate – 1 hour to light the grill, cook and rest

Ingredients:                                     Serves 4

For the porkchops:

4 bone-in pork loin chops, 1-inch thick

¼ packed dark brown sugar

6 T Kosher salt

6 wood chunk

1 Qt water

For the gastrique:

¾ cup packed dark brown sugar

¾ cup cider vinegar

6 sprigs thyme

3 bay leaves, crumbled

Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Trim the porkchops, if needed.  Measure out the two quantities of brown sugar, the cider vinegar, the bay leaves and thyme.

Marinate the chops:

Stir the ¼ C brown sugar and 6 tablespoons of salt with 1 quart of water in a large bowl until the sugar and salt dissolve.  This will take a few minutes – keep whisking or stirring.  Add the chops and submerge fully.  Refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours.

Make the gastrique:

While the chops are marinating, combine the ¾ C sugar, vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.  Bring to a bowl over medium heat, stirring from time to time to dissolve the sugar.  After it comes to a boil, cook about 8 minutes – until reduced to around ¾ cup.  (I had to pour it out into a pyrex measuring cup and then cook some more to reduce it and concentrate the flavors.)

Now pour it through a fine-meshed sieve, discard the solids and return to the sauce pan and set aside until the chops are cooked.

Cook the chops:

These instructions are for a charcoal grill.  If you’re cooking with a gas grill, you’ll need to wrap your wood chunks in foil and poke some holes in the top.

Start your charcoal and, when covered with ash, deposit in two piles, leaving a coal-free space between them where you can par cook the chops.  Place 3 chunks of wood on each of the piles.*  Open the vents, put on the grate(s) and cover the grill to heat up for 5 minutes.

*There is no need to soak the wood.  They make boats out of wood, since it doesn’t absorb water.  If you soak your wood, you’ll simply create a lot of steam, lower the temperature of the coals and still end up with flaming wood, since the water evaporates quickly.  (I have this information from a grill-master with the superb name of Meathead Goldwyn – bet you wondered what happened to the family after the Japanese, or was it Disney, bought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Now remove the chops from the brine – don’t dry them – and place over the center of the grate (with coals on either side, but not beneath the chops).  Cover and cook for 10 minutes – don’t lift the lid or you’ll let out the heat and have to cook longer.

After 10 minutes, uncover the grill and move 2 chops over each pile of coals on the side of the grill.  Cook, uncovered, flipping and moving around as needed to avoid flare-ups until well browned, about 7 minutes.  The meat near the bone should register 135 F.  Transfer to a platter and tent with foil and rest for 10 minutes.

While the chops are resting, bring the gastrique to a gentle simmer over medium.

To serve, drizzle each chop with a few tablespoons of the gastrique and serve with the remaining gastrique on the side.

3 thoughts on “Sweet and Sour

  1. I love these blogs! Thank you

    On Mon, Jul 1, 2019, 8:44 PM whatwecookedlastweek wrote:

    > Bill Stewart posted: “June 17 – June 23, 2019 Monday: Sicilian Caponata, > Hot Sausage and Parmesan Crostini Tues – Thurs: Away at Leading Age > Conference in Hershey Alas, no pictures of a truly memorable meal that I > didn’t cook Friday: Crabcakes, Cole Slaw – Cooked by B” >

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