A traditional Sicilian dish, caponata is served as a salad, side dish or relish. The basic ingredients are eggplant, onions, tomatoes, olives and vinegar, but beyond that there are many variations.
The vegetables are fried separately to maintain the integrity of each flavor. It's meant to be a symphony of sweet and sour.
Chef Giorgio Locatelli allows that dieters may grill the vegetables, but he says the flavor from frying them is far superior. You'll need a thermometer for deep-frying.
Make Ahead: The eggplant needs to drain for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The caponata needs to sit for 2 hours (for the flavors to develop).
Servings: 6 - 8 main-course
- 1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
- Sea salt
- 2/3 cup whole black olives in brine
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 9 slices country bread, cut into cubes of about 3/4 inch (about 8 ounces; optional)
- 5 to 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 onion, cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 2 ribs celery, cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar, preferably superfine
- 5 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar
- Vegetable oil, for deep frying
- 1/2 bulb fennel (cored, outer layer removed), cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 3 plum tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 1 bunch basil
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the eggplant into 1-inch dice and sprinkle generously with salt. Transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, then squeeze it lightly to get rid of the excess liquid.
Drain the olives and use paper towels to pat them dry, then crush them lightly and remove the pits.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pine nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes or until they are golden brown, shaking them once or twice so they brown evenly. Let cool.
Spread the cubes of bread, if using, on a separate baking sheet, and toast for 5 to 12 minutes (at 350 degrees) or until golden. Let cool.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery and olives and cook until soft but not colored, about 10 minutes, then add the tomato paste. Stir the sugar and vinegar together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved, then add to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then transfer the skillet mixture to a large mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, line the counter or a large baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of vegetable oil into a deep saucepan, making sure the oil comes no farther than one-third of the way up the sides, and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.
Add the fennel and deep-fry it for 1 to 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fennel to the paper towels. Wait until the oil returns to 350 degrees, then repeat with the eggplant, followed by the zucchini.
Add the drained vegetables to the mixing bowl, then add the tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces, letting them fall into the bowl along with the raisins and pine nuts. Add the remaining 4 to 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, to taste; season with salt and pepper to taste, then toss gently to combine. Cover with plastic wrap while the vegetables are still warm and leave at room temperature for 2 hours to infuse the flavors.
Twenty minutes before serving, mix in the toasted bread cubes, if using, and leave at room temperature to infuse.
Adapted from "Made in Sicily," by Giorgio Locatelli with Sheila Keating (Ecco, 2011).
Tested by Nilar Andrea Chit Tun.
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