Posted by: A Part of the Solution | December 6, 2010

Simple Sicilian Caponata

I have seen caponata recipes with well over twenty ingredients. This is not that caponata. I have seen caponata recipes where everything is simmered together from the beginning. This is not that caponata. I have seen caponata recipes where the eggplant is almost the least significant element. This is not that caponata.

Why caponata at all? Well, some people are about ready to scream if they see one more tub of well-meaning hummus. Or yet another bowl full of ranch flavored sour cream dip. Or, forfend, a port cheese ball. This caponata is a hearty little spread. This caponata goes with whatever else is on the table (even if it’s hummus and a Knorr Onion Soup mix dip). And this caponata has a memorable flavor and great texture–not just one more mouthful of indistinguishable glop.

Beyond those great reasons, the caponata keeps well. You can serve it this weekend, and take it to the office party at the end of the week, and that unassuming caponata will be just fine, maybe even better for a little aging. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone it’s mostly eggplant–they’ll never know unless you choose to spill the beans. So sharpen up your knives and get ready to make:

Simple Sicilian Caponata

1 1 lb eggplant (male if possible, look for an ‘outie’ at the blossom end, girls have ‘innies’–and way more of those slightly bitter seeds no one wants). Peel this, cube it and toss it with salt, then set the eggplant in a colander to drain for about an hour.

1 large, or 2 medium, or 4 small onions, sliced very thinly

1 cup diced celery

8 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 TBSP cocoa powder (take a deep breath, this turns out really well)

3 TBSP capers, rinsed, drained and half coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Pat your eggplant dry. In batches, you want to sauté it in a couple tablespoons of olive oil at a time. The salt prevents the eggplant from acting as an oil sponge. Do your sautéing in a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron is ideal), let the eggplant take color and become soft before removing it from the pan.

In another pan, sauté the onion in a tablespoon of oil Do this low and slow. Don’t stir more than once every 10-15 minutes. You want it to get darkly caramelized. You can count on the onion taking about 40 minutes all told. In yet another pan (a small saucepan now), put about 1/2 cup of water and the diced celery. Slap a lid on this, bring it to the boil and reduce to a simmer. You’re looking for the celery to become brighter in color, and somewhat softer in texture–though still holding some crunch. Drain the celery and reserve the water in which it cooked.

Combine the eggplant, onion and celery in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the tomato paste and the cocoa powder, plus some of the celery cooking water. Bring this to a simmer and let it cook gently about 20 minutes. Finish it with the capers, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt (you won’t need much, between the salting of the eggplant and the brininess of the capers, there’s already lots of salt in the house).

Serve this cold or at room temperature with pita chips or whole grain crackers–or bell pepper dippers. You won’t believe how good it is, and you’ll gather up accolades every time someone tastes this for the first time.



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