Every time I travel I discover a dish that warms my heart so much I become a little (okay, a lot) obsessed with it. On my most recent trip, this dish was Sicilian caponata. And I didn’t even go to Sicily.
The fact I discovered Sicilian caponata in Venice says so much about the popularity of this sweet and sour aubergine (eggplant) dish and how it has spread throughout Italy and the world.
Apparently there are as many recipes for caponata as there are cooks in Sicily. Some recipes for caponata add pine-nuts and raisins and some use green olives rather than black olives. I think a teaspoon of cacao powder is fabulous in caponata—it provides a certain addictive richness that is well balanced by the freshness of basil leaves.
However you make caponata, I think what is great about this dish is that it asks you as a cook to express yourself, to become an artist. Here is my expression of caponata:
Caponata Siciliana (Serves 4)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 sticks of celery sliced into 0.5 cm long pieces
- 1 brown onion finely diced
- 20 pitted black olives sliced in quarters
- 1 tablespoon salted capers, brushed slightly to remove some salt and then chopped slightly (run your knife through them)
- 1 cup of passata di pomodoro (or sugo di pomodoro for extra flavour)
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 large aubergine (eggplant) cut into 1.5 cm cubes (leave the skin on)
- In a saucepan, boil water. Once the water is boiling add the chopped celery to the water to boil for 2 minutes. Drain the celery and put to the side.
- Add olive oil to a hot pan and fry the diced onion until it is translucent.
- Add capers, olives, and celery to the fry pan and stir.
- Add passata, sugar, white-wine vinegar, and cacao powder and stir.
- Add eggplant cubes, stir the mixture, and put a lid on the pan.
- Turn the heat down and cook the mixture for around 25 minutes (or until the eggplant is cooked through) while stirring occasionally.
- Let the caponata cool to room temperature and garnish with basil leaves.
Caponata lasts in the fridge for days, so you can eat it with eggs for breakfast, with crusty bread for lunch, and with fried swordfish for dinner.
Notes: Passata di pomodoro or sugo di pomodoro can be purchased from a good delicatessen; if you use sugo di pomodoro, unsalted capers should be used; the eggplant can be fried in extra virgin olive oil before being added to the mixture if you choose.