Caponata a light and refreshing summer dish from Sicily, makes use of all the vegetables that are plentiful in the summer, sending you on an imaginary trip to the South of Italy, where meals are long, everyone seems to talk at the same time, and cooking and eating are both an art. When visiting with my friends Luigi and Lucia in their garden cottage in the lovely Lepini Mountains outside of Rome, Luigi had prepared this dish as an appetizer for us and I was smitten with this sweet and sour dish, that is such a great complement to fresh Mozzarella.
1 ⅓ lbs eggplants, large dice
3 stalks of celery
½ lb white onion, large dice
2 lbs of fresh tomatoes, diced and drained
1 bunch of fresh basil
2 ounces of green olives
2 tbsp capers
5-6 tbsp white wine vinegar
7 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sugar
Fresh ground pepper and salt
You might want to have a bottle of red wine, some crusty rustic bread and fresh balls of mozzarella at hand.
Place diced eggplants in a colander and sprinkle with salt, mix to coat evenly, leave to drain for an hour. But you don’t have to wait, you can proceed with the recipe.
Cut celery stalks into ½ inch long pieces, save and chop the celery leaves.
Cut onions and tomatoes into large dice. Drain tomatoes and save the juice for something else (i.e. salad dressing). Remove the pit from the olives and cut each olive into thirds in the process.
Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven, cook onions until translucent, add celery and cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes, olives and capers, season with sugar, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes without a lid, at the lowest heat, stirring occasionally while frying the eggplant in a separate pan as follows.
Rinse the eggplant and dry with a kitchen towel. In a frying pan heat the rest of the olive oil on high. Just before the oil begins to smoke, add enough of the eggplant, not to crowd the pan. Fry the eggplant until it gets crispy on the outside.
When all the eggplant is cooked, mix it with the other vegetables in the dutch oven. Add the vinegar and simmer everything together another 15 minutes. Taste for more salt and pepper. Add chopped basil and celery leaves.
Caponata can be served lukewarm as a side dish, it is great with grilled meat or fish. It also makes a great topping for bruschetta. My favorite, though, is serving it cold with fresh Mozzarella. To do that, pack the Caponata in a glass bowl and weigh down with a heavy plate and refrigerate for a few hours, if you have time, refrigerate overnight, the flavors really meld. To serve, invert onto a platter and arrange the balls of Mozzarella around it. A great dish for lunch or as an appetizer; best served with crunchy rustic bread.
You can alter the recipe with other vegetables like squash or bell peppers. What makes the recipe is the vinegar, the olives and the capers.