It is hard to know what recipe to make for a book that opens with one of the main characters getting their hand chopped off, ya know? Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is a dark, bleak book with lots of unhappy characters, untimely deaths and really no upside at all. That isn't to say I didn't like it. I did, it was gripping it at times. But this is not the book to read if you are looking for a happy or light beach read (I will be giving you some serious froth next post). When describing this book to others (and I told a few people about it in hopes of getting some ideas for a recipe), I first refer to the movies "21 Grams" or "Babble." These are movies that tell the dark stories of seemingly unrelated people throughout, with the connections between the stories and people eventually revealing themselves. This is exactly what Await Your Reply does - it tells the story of Ryan (he of the chopped off hand), Lucy, an eighteen year old runaway, and Miles, a sad middle aged man searching for his twin brother who is schizophrenic. All the characters are in precarious situations, all of them are deeply unhappy and all of them are somewhat connected to stolen identities. There is no food in the book, the book takes place across a nondescript Midwest landscape (sometimes Nebraska, sometimes Cleveland, sometimes Michigan, but the author doesn't give these places any local color, they are all depicted bleakly). I was going to make some sort of mistaken identity food (e.g. a meatloaf and potato concoction dressed up to look like a cupcake), or make a pizza with three different sections/toppings. I settled on something agrodolce - the Italian word for sweet and sour. I thought it fit a key character in the book, Miles' brother Hayden - specifically the agrodolce concept - the "agro" suits the character better than the term word sour (and I know that agro in Italian probably means "sour", but you know what I am trying to get at - "agro," meaning agressive). I picked this agrodolce Caponata since it would be great use of summer vegetables!
Adapted from Michael Chiarello recipe of Foodtv.com
This recipe is a great way to use summer veggies. The agrodolce sauce is sweet and sour - it is reduced vinegar with sugar. I changed the recipe a bit, reducing it by two thirds and switching the olive type and cutting back in the capers, which I don't love. But the recipe is super forgiving and feel free to play with it a bit. The recipe calls for cooking all the veggies separately, which is time consuming. If I had to do it again, I think I could cook the summer squash, zucchini and eggplant together if I was pressed for time. I served this with bread, but you can serve this so many ways! With pasta, as a side dish, with eggs. It is just super yummy.
1 medium eggplant, large diced
1 large zucchini, quartered and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large summer squash, quartered and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers
1/3 cup green olives
1/3 cup thinly sliced roasted red peppers
handful chopped italian parsley
handful chopped fresh oregano
~3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce (I used jarred but fresh would be better)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil as necessary
Directions: Heat some oil in large saute pan. Saute each veggie separately till it is cooked and lightly browned, probably about 5 minutes per veggie.