Thursday, July 12, 2007

Yellow Pepper Coca with Capers

The 711 - 1492 AD Moorish occupation in Spain left some incredible marks on the culture and food of Andalusía. Think of the citrus, saffron, almonds, and rice we now equate with Spanish cuisine, not to mention all the spices: aniseed, cinnamon, and coriander to name but a few. Think of the guitar and the possibility of flamenco its invention created. Or the ancient whitewashed villages of the Alpujarras and Granada’s exquisite Alhambra palace and gardens.

And then there’s sugar. Sugar cane and sugar refining both arrived with the Moors, and it’s fair to credit their occupation with that region’s sweet tooth today. The pastries and sweets of Andalusía are renowned, but the regional preference for sour-sweet flavors is something I enjoy even more.

Coca is one such dish. In its most traditional form, peppers are roasted and stewed with sugar, onions, and Andalusían sherry vinegar before being strewn across a yeast-leavened dough and baked – powdered sugar is dusted over the whole thing before serving. But I like my coca with a scattering of capers to cut through the sweetness, and I skip the powdered sugar – by all means try it if the mood strikes though. Recall how refreshing the indulgently sweet Moroccan mint tea is on a hot day? There really is something about scorching heat and sugar that makes sense.

Yesterday, I used prepared pizza dough from the local pizza place for my coca – it’s been far too hot here for much integrity of any sort – but here’s a link to a dough recipe I like if you’re in the mood. Regardless, coca makes fantastic summer tapas. On your next hot day, sip an ice-cold fino, wine, or beer, sit very still, and leave the conversation to someone else while you eat a tangy, savory-sweet slice of coca.

Photo of the Palacio del Partal at the Alhambra with its famous reflecting pool.

Serves 6 - 8

Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced very thinly
kosher salt
4 – 6 yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and sliced thinly to make about 2 cups total – feel free to use jarred roasted peppers
3 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
all-purpose flour for dusting
1 portion (about 20 oz.) prepared pizza dough from your local pizza place or supermarket, chilled
2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Coat with a glug of olive oil and add the onion. Sprinkle well with salt and sweat, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 more minutes.

Sprinkle over the sugar and vinegar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and allow to bubble gently for 5 - 10 minutes until the cooking liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, check the seasoning with more salt, and then set the peppers aside while you continue.

Preheat the oven to 450 F and brush a large baking sheet with olive oil. On a floured surface, roll or stretch out your pizza dough until it’s roughly 12” by 15.” Lay out on the baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Arrange the pepper onion mixture on top and sprinkle over the capers.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until the coca is golden brown. Cool slightly before cutting into rectangles. May be served warm or at room temperature.


Wendy said...

I've never heard of this before. It sounds absolutely delicious. Perfect for summer days, as you said.
The capers are a nice touch. Imagine I'd far prefer their saltiness to the sugar.

Joanne Rendell said...

i've never heard of it either. and my mum lives in andalucia. I'm sending her the recipe now.

tribecachef said...

Never heard of coca before. Do they change the toppings, or is it always peppers?

Patricia Scarpin said...

This looks good!
Anything that resembles pizza has a special place in my heart. :)

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This sounds really delicious, Amanda! I love the mixture of sweet and savory - especially in the summertime!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Wendy! They really do cut through and balance the whole thing. Though I'd eat just about anything as long as it had capers on it!

Hi Jo Jo! Yikes. I hope she approves...

Hi tribecachef, You know the toppings do change a bit, though this is the most traditional. But the sour-sweet combination is always present. Onions in vinegar with sultanas is another combination I've seen before.

Hi Patricia! I quite agree. And I really do think the whole sour-sweet thing is wonderful in heat like we've had in New York this week!

Hello Jenn, and congrats again! I'm so glad you like the coca, and I quite agree about this flavor profile and summer! Have you slept through the night yet? How many bridal magazines have you bought so far?

Lucy said...

Lovely post. The Moorish influence was spectacularly good for the Spanish!

Perfect hot weather food (excellent idea to get your dough from the pizza shop on a scorching day...)and your more savory approach is great.

We're off to Spain later this year. Sure this will get me in the right frame of mind!

Mercedes said...

You've had such lovely things here recently, but I just haven't had time to comment. Loved the roasted scapes and the tapenade. This looks great (when I frist looked I actually thought it was socca, but then realized, duh, it was coca). Lovely.

Cynthia said...

I like this pizza because it's not cheesey :) I know, I'm strange :)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Lucy - So glad you like the post. Where in Spain are you headed?

Hi Mercedes - Thanks so much for your kind words. Coca is certainly one of a great many flat breads from the region, as you say. But no chickpea flour like the socca I've had. Good call though! Have you tried farinata? It's the chickpea flour flatbread you get in Liguria, Piedmonte, even down into Tuscany.

Hi Cynthia - You know something? I totally agree with you on that. It can be really pleasant to keep it light and let the other ingredients (meats, veg, whatever) shine on their own. I don't think cheese should be an automatic thing on pizzas, and it's fun to play around with types of cheese when they are used.

liesel said...

I have never heard of coca either, but I do love the sour-sweet thing. I'm glad you added the capers instead of powdered sugar too!

Lotus said...

Ooh, that looks so good! When you mentioned the powdered sugar, I did a double take, love that you used capers instead. Can't wait to try it.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Liesel, I'm a huge fan of sweet and sour from whatever cusine is on the menu! Bbq ribs or coca - I'm equal opportunity!

Hi Lotus, and thanks! It's worth knowing how the thing tastes as authentically as possible. But, yes! I much prefer the twang of the capers.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Actually I have been sleeping quite well! And I have only been looking online for wedding stuff SO FAR! But I have gone to try on some dresses! This is going to be pretty low key, however, I am very very excited!

Aileen said...

Oh, this sounds wonderful! I am especially excited to break-up my summer routine of peppers stewed with [canned] tomatoes [sigh] and summer squash with a few beans every now and then for a splash of variety. [I'm not a vegetarian, I just feel like I have to eat a year's worth of vegetables in these few months when the good ones are actually affordable!] I thank you for including the dough recipe too!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jenn - low key is the way to go! I think it's easier to enjoy the process somehow. Congrats again!

Hi Aileen! Sounds great to me actually - I find myself eating much less meat in the summer down here, so I can only imagine how you must feel up north! Did you see the tian recipe last month? That might be useful too since you have summer squash. Looking forward to reading what you do next, and congratulations again!

Loulou said...

I made a spinach coca last month for a dinner party. They are great for a crowd!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Loulou, spinach coca sounds delicious! I'd really love to hear about the ingredients/ seasonings. Thanks in advance!

Loulou said...

I posted the recipe on my blog last month.
here's the link

it was delicious!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Loulou, thanks for the link! It looks absolutely delicious, and the chard and spinach here are lovely right now - perfect timing!

Sandi @ the WhistleStop Cafe said...

What a beautiful place~ the coca sounds yummy to.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thanks Sandi! Aren't you lovely. The coca's one of my favorites tapas - I hope you have a chance to try it!

Lucy said...

Ah, Amanda, we're off to Madrid and then onto San Sebastian in the Basque region in early October.

Proper salt cod and Art (in that order) are what I'm longing for amongst many, many other things!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, how absolutely fantastic! Do you ever see Saveur magazine down there? They did a marvelous feature on the Basque region and its cuisine for the May 2007 issue. If you go to there are some great recipes posted from the article that use salt cod (Porrusalda soup, Bacalao al Pil Pil...)- could be good to get in the mood!
I'm so looking forward to reading all about your trip and the gorgeous food you find!

tara bethune-leamen said...

looks so delicious.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thanks Tara! And welcome! I hope you enjoy your coca.

leigh said...

i made sort of my own version of the coca last night, really it was sauteed peppers and onions with capers. I just used some pizza dough from the store. It was really good! (i didn't use sugar as I am trying to cut down on the amount of sugar in my diet ;)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Leigh! That sounds absolutely wonderful, and I'm so glad you used the recipe! You know, Loulou has a great version over at her site with swiss chard and spinach that I've been meaning to try. I don't think it has any sugar, so you might want to check it out too. It's in a post titled "Tapas" in the June archives at:

farmgirl said...

Oh my GOSH does that look good. Your photos are positively mouthwatering. Why oh why did I stop by hungry? Everything looks and sounds so wonderful. Just your list of what's in season in NY had me drooling (and green with envy).

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'd better go mix up a batch of pizza dough and see if there are enough ripe peppers in the garden to make at least a small one of these. Thanks for so many gorgeous recipes! : )

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Farmgirl and welcome! Thanks so much - I'm so glad you like the coca. I have no idea why certain sweet foods are so refreshing in the heat, but it just seems to work somehow!

farmgirl said...

Okay, I'm baaack. I finally have enough ripe yellow peppers in the garden to make this, but now I have questions. I was going to email you (since I owe you one anyway!) but I thought other people might wonder about these things, too.

First of all, the sherry wine vinegar. So I went to the pantry and rummaged through my 7 or 8 bottles of vinegar. Huh. No sherry wine vinegar. I knew I had sherry something. Yep, sherry.

So I look for it at two stores and don't see anything. Meanwhile I've now found two other recipes online I want to make that call for sherry vinegar. How have I survived so long without ever having heard of this stuff? I do a little research, finding out it's apparently the Spanish equivalent of balsamic vinegar and is usually very pricey. Obviously I wasn't shopping in the right stores. : )

I also read that you can substitute balsamic vinegar (of which I have three different kinds). What do you think? Yes? Or is this the kind of recipe where if you don't have the sherry wine vinegar than don't bother making it?

Second, the peppers. The ones in my garden are sadly not as flavorful as I'd hoped, so I'm thinking they'd be perfect for roasting. How do you roast yours?

At least the pizza dough part is no problem at all--and I even have a few capers left in that jar from last week!

Geez, this is so long I guess I should have called in my questions. Thanks for the help! xo

Figs Olives Wine said...

Farmgirl, great to hear from you!!! I've been so hectic with work lately, but I have to say again that I so enjoyed your post on the beer bread! Now down to business:
1) Sherry vinegar should not cost you an arm and a leg - though it's possible to get exquisite stuff for a lot of money (just like the balsamic situation), for cooking, a cheaper version will absolutely suffice. With no sherry vinegar in reach, I use white wine vinegar or white balsamic and a few tablespoons of dry, dry, sherry. You'll just need to reduce the liquid 30 seconds more or so. This should be every bit as good I think. But even if there's no dry sherry, just stick to the white wine vinegar and know that the flavor will be almost the same. You're still getting that Moorish sweet and sour effect, and it's too good to miss for the sake of some vinegar.

2) The peppers in coca should be roasted - what you do is this:
Char the whole peppers until blackened on all sides using either a hot grill or the gas burners on your stove top. Immediately put them in a bowl and seal tightly with saran wrap. Let them steam their little hearts out for 15 minutes. Remove the plastic and pull off the skins - they should come away in your hands. Resist the urge to do this under the tap as the running water rinses away their flavor and sweetness. Don't worry if there are some charred black bits left behind. They're delish!

Hope this helps and please let me know if you need anything else. And enjoy your coca! I'm looking forward to having a bit more time tomorrow or the next day so I can read all about that pesto pizza!!!

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