At what point does a caponata stop being a caponata?

by admin on May 6, 2008 · 3 comments

We are constantly struggling with recipe titles. How much, if at all, do you call attention to the cuisine that inspired the dish? How do you treat classic dishes known mostly by their non-English menu names? How many of the ingredients do you list in the title (when you don’t want to come off looking like one of those ridiculous restaurant menus on which everything down to the salt has been sourced)?

For the most part, we’ve settled on ingredient-focused recipe titles, because that’s how we think about cooking most of the time. “In my fridge, I’ve got a head of broccoli, a chunk of Asiago and a clump of rosemary. What can I make?” Or: “I’m craving a spicy, tomato-y chicken dish. What are my options?”

There’s another reason we default to ingredient-focused titles, and it has to do with variation. As you know if you’ve read Cookthink for any amount of time, we’re not best-recipe people.

We love to take a dish — a simple black bean burrito, for example — and vary it in any number of ways: add broccoli; or broccoli and cumin; or broccoli and cumin and coriander; or cumin and carrot; or cumin and cilantro and coriander and carrot; or cumin and coriander and carrot and bell pepper; and on and on. When you have all these variations on a dish, how they’re different is what we need to show in the title — instead of using non-descriptive titles like “Black bean burrito IV” or “Claire’s favorite burrito” or even cuisine-inflected titles such as “Asian chicken burrito”.

One other reason we default to listing ingredients: at a certain point, a variation on a particular dish is no longer a variation on that dish but is something else instead. For example, at what point does a caponata stop being a caponata? When you take out the tomatoes? The olives? The celery? The pine nuts? A friend with Sicilian roots was just in town for a couple of days and we played around with a few different recipes. This stripped-down non-Sicilian, non-caponata caponata came out as my favorite.

Recipe: Eggplant And Pepper Caponata With Basil (Cookthink)
Reference: Do I need to salt eggplant before cooking it? (Cookthink)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia June 8, 2007 at 9:52 am

This was certainly food for thought. I need to pay more attention to giving names to dishes.

As for this dish, the roasted eggplant and bell peppers with basil, when we combine them in a bowl and add the remaining olive oil, vinegar and basil – is it now a roasted vegetable salad? or a warm vegetable salad? :D

Mar June 8, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Actually, I have the same problem (so this is cross-cultural, cross-idiomatic). When I was a child I’d remember asking my mother what there was for dinner and she would answer, much to my irritation “something good”. Or she would say a classic dish name (“Paella”, “Maccarroni bolognaise”) and then, years later, I’d discover those were her own versions. Sometimes all the fun comes from naming a dish after what it looks like. One evening I served some friends an otherwise unremarkable swiss chard, almond crusted quiche which I had renamed False sara (a Sara, here in Spain, is any cake covered in almonds). They were raving about it, and said how surprising it was. A name is important, I suppose, insofar it makes you think about what really makes the gist of a certain dish and what is just frills.

KAJ June 9, 2007 at 7:19 am

This is actually very similar to a recipe in Annie Somerville’s Field of Greens, which she calls “Sicilian Salad” (she also includes roasted whole cloves of garlic in hers), which I think illustrates that good cooks will converge around certain combinations of ingredients that work especially well together. I’m a big fan of using accurate ingredient-based names, if only because it makes it so much easier to find what I’m looking for; I had to spend several minutes digging through Somerville’s cookbook finding this recipe because I didn’t have it tagged in my head by that title.

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