Caponata

I scored some beautiful small Italian eggplant at Union Street Produce so I just had to make caponata. I love this flavor-packed sweet-sour eggplant side dish (condimento) from Sicilia.

Usually I make caponata during the summer when the eggplant and tomatoes are at their prime. I was surprised to see the early crop of Italian eggplant in late January but it’s been a really mild winter in the Bay Area. The tomatoes were hot house vine-ripened on the stem.

Caponata is easy to make. Most of the work is cutting the eggplant and vegetables. Caponata is cooked in stages and married at the end with agrodolce, a sweet and sour syrup. Eggplant is the star so choose well at the market. The eggplant should be shiny black and firm to the touch. The small Italian eggplant are my favorite for caponata but if you can’t find them any eggplant will do.

If you’ve never had caponata try some from a shop like North Beach’s new salumeria (Italian deli) Geppetto to get a taste of how this dish is supposed to be and then make your own. Caponata will keep in the refrigerator for about a week so I usually have some on hand to add to an antipasti platter, as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat or fish, as pasta sauce or as a topping for bruschetta or crostini.

Caponata

Ingredients

  • 5 small firm eggplant, Italian eggplant preferred
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs
  • 1 pound or 500 grams fresh tomatoes, San Marzano or plum preferred
  • 1/2 cup Cerignola olives or your favorite
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 5 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup half EVOO half vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • sea salt

Cooking Directions

  1. Trim the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  2. Sprinkle the eggplant with sea salt and mix to coat well. Place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
  3. Rinse the eggplant well and dry on paper towel.
  4. Cut the onion into one-inch pieces. Set aside.
  5. Cut the celery into half-inch slices. Set aside.
  6. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Cut into one-inch cubes. Set aside.
  7. Roughly chop the olives. Set aside.
  8. Pour the vinegar, water and sugar into a small pot.
  9. Over medium-high heat boil until reduced by half and the vinegar mixture is syrupy.
  10. In a heavy-bottomed pan heat the oil mixture and when hot add the eggplant.
  11. Fry the eggplant until it is golden-brown all over, about 10 minutes.
  12. Drain the eggplant on paper towels. Set aside.
  13. Pour out the oil and wipe the pan with a paper towel.
  14. Put the pan back on the flame and add 2 tablespoons of EVOO.
  15. When the oil is hot add the onion and celery and saute until they are softened and have some golden color, about 5 minutes.
  16. Add the olives and capers and mix well.
  17. When the pan is at a sizzle add the tomatoes and mix well.
  18. Cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.
  19. Add salt to taste and mix well.
  20. Mix in the fried eggplant and mix well.
  21. When everything is sizzling pour in the vinegar mixture and mix well.
  22. Cook everything together for 5 minutes.
  23. Turn off the heat and roughly rip the basil leaves into the pan and mix well.
  24. Serve at room temperature.