Cooking Experiences

Caponata – a Sicilian delight

Caroline blogs about the joys of Caponata…

Having discovered the joys of Caponata in Sicily a couple of years ago I was quite disappointed that none of the restaurants we ate in when visiting Palermo last month had it on their menu. Needless to say I was delighted to find it on the menu in Nice last week even though I reckon the Sicilians would have something to say about the locals claiming it as a traditional Nicois dish.

Anyway having sampled it several times over the course of our week’s holiday I thought I would try and make it at home.

A look on the Internet made me realise that there are infinite variations on the recipe out there and I was thrown into a state of confusion: did I want to put sultanas in mine, what about the toasted almonds on top, should I use fresh tomatoes cut into chunks or passata, did it matter if I used white wine vinegar instead of herb vinegar, and if I decided to include celery would I do as some suggested and cut it into chunks the same size as the aubergines or should I follow the advice of others and dice it?

Eventually I decided to give Jamie’s recipe from his Italian cookbook a go. According to him the bitterness in an aubergine comes from the seeds and he recommends asking your “veg boy” to cut one open to make sure that there are not too many seeds. This might be OK if your name is Jamie Oliver but I foresaw a rude reply coming my way even if I had a “veg boy” rather than the fruit and veg counter at Sainsbury’s. Nevertheless I struck lucky and when I cut into the aubergines this morning I was relieved to see that they possessed only a modest number of seeds.

Ingredients at the ready!

Ingredients at the ready!

I started by cutting the two aubergines into decent sized chunks and frying them in olive oil with a teaspoon of dried oregano. It took around five minutes for them to take on a nice golden hue and meanwhile I was chopping a small red onion, two cloves of garlic and the stalks from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, ready to add to the aubergines and fry for another couple of minutes. I did wonder about the merits of using only the parsley stalks at the moment but decided to suspend disbelief on the basis that Jamie didn’t make his fortune by getting things like that wrong. The aubergines had soaked up all the oil so I added another Jamie-esque “glug” at this point.

Aubergines nice and golden

Aubergines nice and golden

It was now time to add a small jar of drained capers and a handful of stoned green olives. The ones I had bought are stuffed with chillies so will give the finished dish a slight kick. At this stage you also pour in about three tablespoons of herb vinegar and let it cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Last but not least five chopped tomatoes go in (I also added a squirt of tomato purée) and the “stew” is then left to cook for about quarter of an hour or until the vegetables are soft.

All ready to cook for another 15 minutes

All ready to cook for another 15 minutes

The caponata is now sitting in the fridge ready for lunch tomorrow and all that needs to be done is to season it, sprinkle it with the chopped parsley leaves and drizzle some it with some olive oil. A touch more vinegar can also be added if the sweet and sour balance is not quite right. Served at room temperature with some focaccia, it promises to be a good starter for the lunch we are having for friends.

The finished dish

The finished dish

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