During my time in Sicily earlier this year (see my Sicilian holiday posts here and here for more), I fell in love with a local specialty – caponata. Lunch and dinner, you could be guaranteed that if I saw it on a menu, I’d order it. I ate it both as a cold antipasto – mopped up with bread – and also warmed as a side dish with main courses. I could not get enough of the stuff.
Caponata is traditionally a very seasonal dish, and the finished product depends very much on what kind of vegetables you can get your hands on. The key ingredient for caponata is eggplant (or aubergine, depending on what you prefer to call it!), and you can pretty much add whatever else you like.
Today, I thought I’d try and recreate this special little vegetable-packed dish, and I spent a lot of time looking at some pretty mouth-watering recipes.
I ended up basing my caponata on a Yotam Ottolenghi caponata recipe, adding and omitting ingredients to attempt to recreate from memory the caponata I’d tasted on my travels.
2 medium eggplants, cut into 2cm dice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil, for frying
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
I large yellow capsicum, roughly chopped into large pieces
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
6 celery stalks, stringed and cut into slices
2 tbsp small salted capers, rinsed thoroughly in cold water
1/4 cup green olives, pitted and quartered
400g tin crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Spread chopped eggplant into a shallow dish and sprinkle with plenty of salt. Leave the eggplant for 20 minutes, then pop it all in a big colander and rinse thoroughly. Leave to dry on some paper towel.
While the eggplant is getting the salt treatment, chop red onion, olives, celery, garlic and capsicum.
Add plenty of olive oil to a large pan (I used a big wok) – enough to cover a layer of eggplant cubes – you want to be able to almost ‘deep-fry’.
When the oil is hot, fry the eggplant in small batches for around five minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Drain on paper towel.
Remove oil from the pan and use a few tablespoons of fresh oil to cook the garlic and onion for a few minutes.
Add the capsicum, and celery and cook for a further ten minutes, until all softened.
Return the eggplant to the pan with the tomatoes, olives, parsley, vinegar, and sugar and cook for a further ten minutes.
Season carefully – the dish should be slightly sweet and slightly tart from the vinegar.
I left out the olives this time, as I was cooking for my parents and neither of them have the taste for olives. I’ve also read that you can add anchovies – and I plan to add both next time.
Some recipes I read didn’t bother frying the eggplant first – but I think this is key to getting the maximum flavour and creaminess from the eggplant.
This caponata recipe makes a pretty sizeable batch – enough for four hungry people as a large side dish. My tip is to keep some aside, as the flavour improves overnight and can be gobbled down with some crusty bread the next day.
I served my caponata with some grilled fish – flathead – served simply with a squeeze of lemon juice. Delizioso!