Caponata

An Italian summer dish especially associated with Sicily, Caponata is a slightly sweet and sour cooked salad, with aubergines, peppers, onions, tomatoes, olives and capers in sauce made from red wine vinegar and sugar. (August 15, 2012)

Just when Mother Nature throws the sultriest nights of the season our way, she also provides the wherewithal for us to entertain friends using local ingredients in a "chill out" meal that'll revive flagging appetites.

Our bill of fare for such a soiree designed to make eight people very happy begins with caponata on pita toasts — a melange of wonderful vegetables that is Italy's answer toFrance'sratatouille, give or take. Guests can quaff a rose wine, or a beer. For the teetotalers, we return to the vegetable patch with a cucumber-lemonade spritzer.

We follow up with more veggies in a main-dish salad featuring shrimp, feta and tomatoes. And side this with a quick-fixing couscous enhanced by butter pine nuts.

Dessert also stars local ingredients in a angel food cake with peach-blackberry compote.


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Whether you decide to dine inside or al fresco (don't forget the repellent), this chill out dinner will make for a memorable, no-sweat evening.

Have fun!

To begin with…

The spritzers

1 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup light brown sugar

3 cups peeled, diced cucumber (hot house/English cukes have fewer seeds)

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons peeled, minced, fresh ginger

4 cups sparkling water, chilled

8 small cucumber spears, garnish

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Cool.

In a blender, in batches if need be, combine cooled sugar syrup, diced cucumber, lemon juice and ginger, and process until smooth. Cover and chill.

To serve, combine chilled cucumber mixture and sparkling water in a chilled pitcher. Whisk until well combined. Pour into iced-filled glasses. Garnish each serving with a cucumber spear. Makes 8 cups.

The pita toasts

8 small loaves pita bread (white or whole wheat)