This is a beautiful dish with Roman origins – it’s a Sicilian dish. There is something beautifully different about some of the taste combinations you’ll find in Sicily, especially the tendency to combine sweet and sour – a legacy, they say, of ancient Roman days when sweet dates were used instead of tomatoes and sugar.
La caponata, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes, is a good example. It’s a cousin to the ratatouille of Provence. Caponata features eggplant, with celery, tomato and onions along with capers and olives. These are typical Southern Italian flavours. And it has that sweet-and-sour touch that perfectly balances out the flavours. It layers different flavours one upon the other, and, if you care to cook it for 30 mins or more, the flavours are deep and glorious and the consistency almost jam-like.
Serve Caponata on its own, hot or room temperature, on a Sunday afternoon (with a glass of wine, of course), or in the traditional manner as an antipasto. Caponata can be served on bruschetta, with flatbread or with salad leaves, and it’s also perfect as a side dish or even as a relish.
There are many versions of Caponata on Sicily – apparently 37 official versions depending on local customs. The differences lie in the addition of different vegetables, for example potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini.
Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray note warily in the River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook that “there are as many ways to make caponata as there are cooks in Sicily”, a fact confirmed by Giorgio Locatelli, who claims that “in every house and in every restaurant you will find a different version and opinion.”
This is a recipe from our first blog which ran from 1995 – 2006. You can browse all of those vegetarian recipes in our Retro Recipes series.
Serve on its own on a Sunday afternoon, or in the traditional manner, as an antipasto “before a meal”. This is a Sicilian dish with a sweet/sour flavour – a legacy, they say, of ancient Roman days when sweet dates were used instead of tomatoes and sugar.
|1 medium eggplant||0.33 cup virgin, cold pressed olive oil||2 stalks celery, thinly sliced|
|2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped||1 onion, thinly sliced||2 tspn pine nuts|
|1 Tblspn capers, drained||5 black olives, stoned and halved||1 Tblspn sugar|
|2 Tblspns good white wine vinegar||freshly ground black pepper||sea salt|
Cut the eggplant into small cubes, sprinkle with sea salt and leave to drain for 30 minutes. Heat half the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the cubes a few at a time until browned and soft, adding a little more oil as necessary.
Return all the cooked eggplant to the pan with the celery, onion and tomatoes. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes and then add the pine-nuts, capers and olives. Stir the sugar into the vinegar until dissolved and add to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer very gently for 15 minutes more. Taste, and add a little more vinegar if necessary. Cool and leave for flavours to develop fully.
Serve with Italian bread for spreading.
This recipe is cross posted with our sister site, A Life (Time) of Cooking; it appears here as part of our Retro Recipes series – vegetarian recipes from our first blog from 1995 – 2006.