This caponata has every element of the traditional Sicilian dish, but the way it’s cooked is a departure from the classic recipe. I must admit that I’m not fond of what happens to eggplants if you simmer them in a sauce for too long. They turn mushy, even a bit slimy, and in that process (at least to my taste buds) they lose much of their flavor.
So when I started working on this recipe, I decided to cook the eggplants separately and add them to the sauce at the end. In fact, I went one step further and cooked the onions separately too, letting both vegetables hold on to their lovely golden-brown color and texture.
The list of ingredients in this recipe might look long – and it isn’t one that can be made in a jiffy – but I find it well worth the effort, and quite irresistible. Served with olive oil croutons or grilled bread, it’s an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer that’s absolutely teeming with flavor. But you can also serve it as a side dish with fish or meat. It will most certainly liven up your plate and your palate!
Last, but not least, very few foods benefit from sitting in the refrigerator for any length of time – but this one is an exception. I find that the caponata tastes even better the day after it’s made.
Food & wine pairing: Aglianico with eggplant caponata
Pour an Aglianico from southern Italy with this super-flavorful dish. I especially recommend the wines from the regions of Taurasi DOCG and Aglianico del Vulture DOC. These full-bodied wines, with their signature flavors of chocolate and plum, pair wonderfully with the complex, rich flavors of the caponata. Of course, if you’d like to pour a Sicilian wine, a Nero d’Avola would be beautiful here too!
makes 5 cups or serves 6
active time: 1 hr
For the eggplant
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) young eggplants (slim varieties are best) – trimmed and cut in 1/2” cubes (6 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For the onions
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large Vidalia or Spanish onion – trimmed, peeled and cut in 1/4” pieces (2 1/4 cups)
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
For the sauce
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) ripe beefsteak tomatoes – peeled, seeded (seeds strained and juices reserved) and puréed with the reserved juices in a food processor or 1 – 15 oz (425 g) can whole, peeled plum tomatoes plus 2 tablespoons spring water – puréed in a food processor
- 1/3 cup currants
- 4 oz (115 g) green olives – pitted and cut in 1/4″ slices
- 2 tablespoons capers – drained and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon organic sugar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 12 large basil leaves – torn in 1″ pieces
- Step 1: Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the oil, eggplants and salt. Toss well and sauté for 12 to 13 minutes until golden-brown, stirring only from time to time. Reduce the heat to medium-high halfway through the cooking, so as not to burn the eggplants. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Step 2: Return the skillet to the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil, onions and pepper flakes. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until golden-brown, stirring from time to time. Add to the eggplants and set aside.
- Step 3: Return the same skillet again to the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil, garlic and thyme. Sauté for 1 minute only, until the garlic releases its flavors, but don’t let it take on any color. Add the tomatoes, currants, green olives, capers, cocoa and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Add the balsamic, salt and pepper. Stir well, simmer for another minute and transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the sauce to the eggplant/onion mixture. Add the pine nuts and basil. Stir well and serve.
- Cook’s note: The caponata can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.