I have tasted my first Caponata in a nice traditional restaurant in Catania (Sicily). The dish was so good, I ended up literally licking the cup that was used to serve it and asking for some more. As for the restaurant, named I Crociferi (the Crusaders), it was something special. Lets set aside the fact that the food was very good, and the selection of fresh fish and sea food was absolutely out of this world (which is pretty normal for Sicily), the place itself was memorable. Imagine being sent back in time for, say, 40 years or so… Large hall (30-40 tables) with tall arches separating it to a number of areas. The tables, made of dark wood, were covered with flawlessly white cloth. A memorable experience…..
Caponata is a widely prepared salad in Sicily, heavily based on eggplants. We’ve tried many versions of it and all other ingredients could vary (sometimes it would have some local flavors, depending on the are of Sicily you are in). Here’s what I managed to taste in the majority of them: tomatoes (of course), tomato paste, olives (green or black or both), capers, red pepper, chili pepper, vinegar (wine vinegar). Almost in every traditional Sicilian restaurant, you’d get a version of this salad with local bread.
When preparing mine, I was trying to emulate the most memorable one – the one from I Crociferi. It definitely isn’t identical, but quite similar and, regardless to authenticity, very tasty. Every time I am making this dish, I start remembering the vacation and the restaurant, so for me, its always a double pleasure 🙂
(For half-a-liter of salad)
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium-sized eggplants
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp of small capers (salted)
7-8 green olives
2 tsp. tomato paste
50 ml. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
*If you don’t have tomato paste you can replace it with 1/3 glasse of tomato juice
1. Take a deep pot (preferably cast-iron) and head the oil.
2. Chop the onion and the garlic finely, and fry in the oil until the onion becomes transparent.
3. Cut the eggplants into medium-sized cubes (approximately 1.5cm side), add to the fried onion and fry on high heat (stirring constantly) for approximately 15 minutes, until they become ‘brownish”
4. Take the tomatoes, and peel them, using blanching technique. Then remove the seeds and chop finely. Add them to the pot containing the onions and the eggplants.
5. Wash the capers and add (along with the rest of the remaining ingredients) into the pot, bring the mixture to boiling and continue cooking over medium-low heat for 15 more minutes. This is the right time to taste and balance the salt-sugar-vinegar combination. The “right” proportion doesn’t really exist, as it depends on one’s taste, size of the vegetables and sweetness of the tomatoes and the paste. The desired taste is a bit sweet, and should be “natural” (do not allow the salt/sugar to reduce the original vegetable taste).
Chill a bit (should be still slightly warm) and serve, preferably, with home-made bread.
Bon appetite 🙂