(Above: Caponata on slices of Italian bread makes crostini.)
This recipe is one of the best I found in a very long time. It is a delicious blend of sweet and sour flavors with a mingling of soft and crunchy textures that melts in your mouth creating a desire for more and more. It is addictive.
The recipe, first printed in the 2005 edition of Gourmet Magazine, got the highest score on Epicurious.com: four forks, and the 18 people who reviewed it said they would make it again.
So what is caponata and what can you do with it? It’s a blend of bite-sized eggplant, tomatoes, celery, green olives, and red bell peppers that have been enhanced with some garlic, onion, parsley, basil, sugar and red wine vinegar.
The original recipe called for salting and draining the eggplant presumably to make it less bitter. I don’t believe in this procedure and find that picking a fresh eggplant that is dark purple and firm and with few, if any scars, works better. I also suggest peeling off the skin to create long white and purple stripes.
It is delicious, by itself as a side dish, or when mixed with pasta. It also makes the best crostini when spread generously over toasted ciabatta slices. It’s very versatile and can be used imaginatively in a thousand different ways. I just put the last of it on some lavash bread, along with some goat cheese and arugula to create a roll-up sandwich. It was better than an eggplant (or chicken, or veal) parm sandwich on a braided roll.
This recipe takes a little work but it’s worth it. It makes a big batch that you can enjoy for several days or even a week. Enjoy!!
CAPONATA, AKA: SWEET AND SOUR EGGPLANT
- 2 lb eggplant (preferably small but not Asian)
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (preferably Sicilian)
- 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups olive oil
- 11 garlic cloves (from 2 heads), chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably from a tube)
- 1 (28-oz) can whole Italian tomatoes, finely chopped and juice reserved
- 5 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup large green Sicilian olives (6 oz), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup drained bottled capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Step 1 Peel the eggplant to create long purple and white stripes. Then cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
- Step 2 Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté three fourths of garlic, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.
- Step 3 Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- Step 4 Add tomatoes with their juice, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Step 5 Bring 2-3 cups of salted water to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart saucepan, then cook celery until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.
- Step 6 Heat 1/4 inch oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until it’s hot but not smoking and then fry the eggplant in 4 batches, stirring and turning constantly with a slotted spoon, until browned and tender, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. (Heat oil between batches.) Transfer to paper towels.
- Step 7 Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet, then reduce heat to moderate and cook onion, bell pepper, and remaining garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.
- Step 8 Add tomato sauce, eggplant, celery, olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and remaining teaspoon sea salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
- Step 9 Cool to room temperature, uncovered, then chill, covered, at least 6-8 hours. Just before serving, stir in parsley and basil. Serve cold or at room temperature.