One of my favorite side dishes in the summer is Caponata. Eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables.
Yet it is usually under used for its potential.
It is relatively bland but will absorb a lot of flavors. The dish comes from Sicily and has some Arabic influences.
It is served at room temperature and loses some of it’s color and a lot of flavor when refrigerated. It goes well with cous cous or quinoa, with grilled fish, seafood or chicken and is a mix between a vegetable dish and a salad. It can be made in advance and left at room temperature pretty much all day.
This recipe I picked up whilst working in England in my first head chef position at Jeremy’s Restaurant in Sussex. I was looking at an Italian cookbook when it popped out because of the vibrant colors. Besides eggplant it contains zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red onion, celery, peppers, basil, pine nuts, raisins and more.
The Vinegar makes it shelf stable and gives it a delicious tang, I prefer sherry vinegar, white balsamic or a good white wine vinegar.
There is a lot of cutting involved but the cooking is actually pretty straight forward.
All ingredients are diced about 1.5 cm or half an inch and cooked separately.
Eggplants are large vegetables so the recipe yields a decent amount of caponata.
2 medium Eggplants
3 medium zucchinis
3 yellow/red peppers
2 red onions
5 stalks of celery all diced
1 cup of green pitted olives
.5 cups of raisins
1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
.5 cup capers
.5 cup toasted pine nuts
.5 cup toasted almonds
.5 cup sliced basil
.75 cup white balsamic vinegar
3 Tblsp sugar (or more) depending on the viegar and your preference
one cup good olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Heat up enough olive oil in a large pot and fry the vegetables separately. The eggplant needs to be cooked the longest, it should not be crunchy but be careful not to overcook it or it will be too mushy and fall apart.
The other vegetables can and should still have some bite when they are removed from the oil.
Cooking the vegetables this way and the addition of the vinegar keeps them clean and vibrant. especially the eggplant often loses its color when cooked in different ways.
Drain all vegetables well on a kitchen towel or paper and place them in a large mixing bowl.
When still hot add the vinegar. This will keep the colors vibrant and add the tangy bite
Carefully fold the vinegar into the caponata and add the rest of the ingredients.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste. You wont need too much sugar because the sweet and sour is the dominant flavor.
The nuts are best toasted in a heavy bottom pan with a little olive oil. Season them with salt and add the as the last ingredients so they stay
You can add all kinds of spices to the dish but I like it as it is because there is a lot going on already. The vegetables, the nuts, the Salty olives and capers, the basil the sweetness of the raisins. But fennel – seeds or bulb, a bit of cumin and coriander, some hot pepper flakes may add another dimension.