Caponata Siciliana

With July just around the corner, ‘tis the season for summer fruits and veggies – and not just wonderful summer fruits like apricots, cherries and watermelon, but also fresh summer vegetables like eggplant and sweet tomatoes.

Caponata utilizes of some of the best summer veggies on the Italian peninsula, including eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes and celery. The recipe’s main ingredient is one of nature’s few purple foods: the eggplant. (Note that eggplants are also known as aubergines in some parts of the English-speaking world.)

Like many Sicilian foods, the purple veggie was probably introduced to Italy by the Arabs. It’s often found in Southern Italian cuisine, though not as much in northern dishes. Caponata is a classic Sicilian recipe which has recently spread all over Italy. The food is actually very similar to the French dish ratatouille (you might be familiar with it thanks to the Pixar cartoon!)

It can be served either warm as a side dish or cold as an antipasto.

Variations: the three main veggies are eggplant, onion and tomatoes, but other fresh vegetables can be added, including bell peppers, zucchini, celery, potatoes and carrots. Just use whatever you have in the fridge or whatever catches your fancy at the market or supermarket.

The recipe that follows is the classic Sicilian recipe.

Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 small eggplants (around 350g), chopped into large chunks
  • 100-150ml olive oil
  • one medium sliced onion
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes (around 250g), chopped
  • 30g green olives
  • 20g capers
  • half cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts or almonds
  • 1 tablespoon of honey (sugar can be substituted if necessary)
  • 4 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley
  1. (optional) Before cooking, you can de-gorge the eggplant by salting it – this will reduce any bitterness that may be in the vegetable as well as reduce the amount of oil it absorbs during the cooking process. To salt the eggplant, generously season large chunks with kosher salt after it has been chopped. Let the mixture sit until liquid comes to the surface, about 20-30 minutes. Then rinse the eggplant well and pat it dry.
  2. Heat up the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the eggplant for about 5-7 minutes, until it is browned. Don’t cook so long that it gets too soft, however! Then transfer the eggplant to the a plate or dish.
  3. Sauté the onion until it begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and red wine and simmer until tomatoes break down into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes. Then add the eggplant and honey and toss ingredients together.
  4. Finally, remove from heat, sprinkle with chopped pine nuts or almonds and parsley, and… enjoy! Buon appetito!

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