While caponata might not win any beauty contests with its brownish-red, slimy looking, chunky texture, I can assure you that there are few condiments in the Italian repertoire that are as rich, gutsy, and satisfying as this star of the Sicilian antipasti platter. Eggplant takes center stage in this marvelous dish, lending its unique texture as the backdrop for such bold, briny flavors as anchovies, capers, and olives. Served atop crostini or alongside provolone cheese in a panino, caponata has an intense, savory quality that can’t be beat.
Adapted from The Complete International Sandwich Book, by Sonia Uvezian
Salting and draining the liquid away from the eggplant is a fundamental technique used many different preparations. After rinsing the diced eggplant in cold water to remove the excess salt, it is imperative to dry the pieces very well before sautéing them in the oil. Not only will this cut down on splattering, but it also aids significantly in nice, even browning. I like to lay several layers of paper towel on the counter and spread the eggplant in an even layer before sandwiching them between another bunch of towels and pressing on them to soak up the moisture. This seemingly arduous task is well worth the delicious end result. Finally, always allow caponata to come to room temperature before serving as the cold refrigerator can mute many of its flavorful nuances.
- 1 16 ounce purple, globe eggplant
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons plus two teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 cups, peeled, seeded and chopped plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 large green olives, pitted, rinsed and cut into slivers
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 anchovy fillets, mashed
- Crushed red pepper
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoons, lightly toasted pine nuts
- Basil for garnish
- Remove stem and hull from the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes, sprinkle liberally with salt and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse under cold running water and dry well will paper towels.
- In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over moderate heat. Add the celery and cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the onions and cook, stirring, about 8 minutes, or until the celery and onions are golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mixture to a bowl.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and heat. Add the dried eggplant cubes and sauté, stirring constantly, until they are golden brown. If you don’t have a large enough pan, you might have to sauté the eggplant in two separate batches. Don’t be afraid to add more oil if it looks like the eggplant is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Mix the vinegar with the sugar and set aside. Return the celery and onion mixture to the pan and stir to incorporate. Create a hot spot in the center of the skillet by moving its contents to the periphery and add a drop of oil before sautéing the anchovies, tomato paste and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Knead the tomato and anchovy paste for a minute to develop their flavor before adding the vinegar/sugar mixture, olives, capers, tomatoes, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Bring mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the pine nuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you feel the caponata needs more acidity, add more vinegar. Remove the skillet from the heat and cool the caponata to room temperature. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. Serve atop crostini with a small basil leaf as a tasty hor d’oeuvre.
Makes about 4 cups