Most cultures in the world can claim a version (or versions for that matter) of a vegetable stew featuring eggplant, pepper, onion, and tomato. Ratatouille from the South of France is undoubtedly the most famous, thanks in no small part to the animated movie of the same name. In my humble estimation, though, Italian caponata is the king of this genre. I’m especially drawn to the style that derives from Sicily, that exotic and wild island that shares almost as much culturally with Greece, Africa, and the Middle East as it does with its home country of Italy. This adaptation is faithful to the traditional in some ways. I’ve featured cocoa powder, pine nuts, and raisins as they do in Sicily. But I’ve also taken some liberties to make it my own. Most notably, I’ve skipped the celery (too overpowering in my book) and capers (not because I don’t like them, I just wasn’t feeling them today).
Caponata is as versatile as it is delicious. If you are having people over, serve it on crostini for a hearty appetizer. Or for dinner during the week, serve it with grilled fish (especially swordfish) or meat. For vegetarian nights, try it tossed through pasta, my favorite way to enjoy caponata. And when you have a little leftover from dinner, pile it into an omelette for breakfast the next morning or spread it on a sandwich at lunchtime. I love a recipe like this one that I can get lots of mileage out of. It makes me feel like the beginnings of my next meal are sitting in the refrigerator just waiting for me to put them to use.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium frying peppers, sliced thinly
4 spring onions or 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
8 ounces fairy tale eggplants (or substitute 2 medium Japanese eggplants), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 plum tomatoes (about 2 cups chopped), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup golden raisins
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup loosely packed thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- In a wide, shallow pan, place 1 tablespoon of oil over low heat. Cook the peppers and onions, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until beginning to soften (you may need a little longer if you are using yellow onion).
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil with the eggplant and cook, stirring, for 4 more minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and cocoa powder and let caramelize for about 30 more seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, vinegar, and raisins with 1/4 cup water. Cover and lightly simmer for about 10 minutes, until the eggplant is tender and the tomatoes have broken down. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from the heat and stir through the pine nuts and basil. Serve with crostini, meat, fish, pasta, eggs, or what ever else you may fancy.
Nutritional analysis based on 4 servings:
Calories 242, Fat 16g, Sodium 139mg, Carbohydrate 24g, Fiber 5g, Sugar 14g, Protein 4g