The first time I tasted a Sicilian Caponata it sent my taste buds into shock. Not that it was packing heat; I was stunned by an explosion of flavors I’d never experienced.
Eggplant plays the starring role in the ancient and awesome medley that delivers such a flavor wallop. The eggplant is sautéed in a sweet-sour sauce, that includes olive oil, pine nuts, capers, olives, tomatoes, raisins, vinegar, sugar and seasonings.
The Spanish brought the dish to Sicily centuries ago, but it was also influenced by the Arabs, Greeks and North Africans coming to the island. Sicily is blessed with the climate to grow all the ingredients for Caponata.
Bittman: “I once lived on Caponata for two days.
New York Times writer Mark Bittman gives a quick and delightful Caponata recipe using lavender eggplants. The Sicilian relish features a combo of cooked vegetables sweetened with raisins and pine nuts. The dish is more Mediterranean than ratatouille, it’s French counterpart.
Bittman says that once while traveling across country, he lived on Caponata for two days. He recalled how he made the dish: “Over fairly high heat, I soften sliced onions and green bell pepper in of olive oil. As they cooked, I chopped and added the eggplant, along with crushed dried red peppers, capers, pine nuts, chopped green olives, raisins and a bit of sugar. After that had all cooked down, I stirred in tomato paste and vinegar.”
Smitten Kitchen gives a similar, but much more exacting recipe here.
Before starting the recipe, I usually “sweat” the eggplant chunks for a half hour or so, layering the chunks in a colander with a bit of salt to remove any bitter taste. Despite the unusual directions and exotic ingredients, the recipe comes together easily.
Caponata is best served the second day and at room temperature. Spread it on crostini or bruschetta; combine it with a short pasta like rigatoni, zita, or penne; or serve it beside roast chicken or fish. The finished texture will be thick and creamy, much like chutney. I’ve got to stop and go make some. Recipe is here.
Drats! I’ve got all the ingredients to make Caponata, except the eggplant. Oh, well, maybe I’ll just go over to Ben’s and order a bowl.