We all love a good Vegas-adventure tale; strippers with a heart of gold, underdogs betting it all on red, buddies having a wild time and learning a valuable lesson. It is the stuff that fantasies, hit movies and bachelor parties are made of.
I would love to tell you that Las Vegas is all inspiring stories, triumphs of the human spirit and sexy showgirls but I didn’t create this blog to hide the ugly truth from you. That’s the mayor’s job, not mine.
Just blocks away from the glitter and glamor of the famous Las Vegas Strip, are eight zip codes that are categorized as “food deserts.” A food desert is an area in which it is difficult to buy affordable, fresh food.
There are three components to food deserts. The most obvious factor is low-income. The others are ease of access; places to buy decent food within proximity to your home, and vehicle access; the ability to find transportation to get to the store and bring your food home. A combination of these issues, low income, low store access and low access to transportation make grocery shopping, as most Americans know it, impossible.
Without large chain grocery stores in impoverished neighborhoods, people are forced to buy from gas stations, pharmacies and bodegas. These convenience stores offer limited food selections, usually frozen or non-perishable, at higher prices. People can’t afford to buy as much, so they purchase foods that are filling but are low in nutrients, sodium-rich and calorie-dense. The high prices cause people to run out of money or SNAP benefits long before the month is over.
This provides people who cook for the food-insecure with both an opportunity and a challenge. Vegetables are not the most popular of dishes in any neighborhood. Most people reading this, myself included are not getting the recommended daily servings. Vegetables aren’t as filling as pastas or meat and there is limited space on each food tray. Unfortunately, the nutrients that most of the food-insecure are lacking, come from the vegetables that they can’t make room for.
The challenge is to make vegetable dishes more appealing. The solution is Caponata, a delicious and hearty Italian dish bursting with seasonal veggies.
My garden is overflowing with Ichiban eggplant and Sweet 100 tomatoes, so that’s a good place for me to start. You can’t get more locally grown than my own backyard.
I have been picking 6-8 eggplants and about a pound of tomatoes every week for most of the summer. I have tested a lot of eggplant recipes in recent weeks, including a few varieties of caponata.
Caponata is to Sicily and Italy what chili is to the Midwest. Everyone has a recipe but no two recipes are the same. There are a few generally accepted ingredients but otherwise anything goes. Much like chili, it is served as a main dish or on top of another foods. The way it’s prepared; roasted, baked, fried or sautéed seems to vary, too. Also like chili, people are vehement about their way being the only correct way to prepare it.
Most folks seem to agree that caponata should consist of eggplant and other summer vegetables and be served as a stew or relish. Most recipes include a tomato base.
I have made it with stewed tomatoes and sliced Italian sausage links and served it with bread for dipping. I have used broth to water it down to make a stew. I have also used tomato sauce and put it over pasta. If you are not a food purist, there is no wrong way to eat this stuff.
Remember to chop the veggies into sizes appropriate for the way you want to serve it. If it’s a relish, dice it more finely. If it’s a stew or casserole, larger chunks are fine.
4 C Diced Eggplant, skins on
2 C Cherry-Sized Tomatoes, halved
10 OZ Olives, whole or halved, drained
28 OZ can of tomato sauce
1 C Oil
1 T Parsley Flakes
Heat your cup of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add eggplant and allow to cook five minutes, stirring often.
Add tomatoes halves and stir in, making sure that tomatoes are coated in oil. Cook three more minutes. Add olives and parsley, and mix thoroughly.
I prefer to eat caponata as a stew, so I add a lot of tomato sauce but if you prefer it as a relish, dryer is better. Add tomato sauce according to your tastes.
Pour tomato sauce over mixture and mix it all together. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for five minutes or until you reach your desired texture.
You can serve your caponata immediately but it is also good the next day, after you have allowed it to marinate in the fridge. It can be served hot or at room temperature.