Oh... everything could have been so perfect! But then I went and forgot to add the capers!
Don't hate me guys and gals- but I have to start on a down-note as capers are pretty much an integral part of an authentic Sicilian Caponata- and as such, I went out especially to buy some... and then forgot to add them! Doh!
But otherwise, this was a pretty wonderful and delicious dish! Fortunately, there were plenty of other great and tasty ingredients to satisfy even my disappointed taste buds- you see, I didn't even notice until my pictures were taken and I was sitting down to eat! But enough! You see the pictures- you want to know how it SHOULD be made... so who am I to stand in your way of finding out?! Read on and all shall be revealed! (I just feel better now for having made my confession!)
There are probably as many recipes for Caponata as their are Sicilian mothers preparing it for their families every day- so don't get to hung-up on how authentic and traditional MY method is- just take a look at the pictures, read my simple directions- and then decide for yourselves on whether you want to try it my way... but I suspect you might! ;-)
Some people like to fry each ingredient separately and the to combine them together with tomato paste, sugar and vinegar at the end to blend all of the flavors into one, some mix everything up from the get-go. Well my method is something in-between... but involves much less oil (surprise!) and possibly a shorter amount of cooking time... which works very, very well for me!
I started off by chopping a small carrot and 2 sticks of celery into bite-sized pieces and popping them into a small saucepan, with just enough water to coat them. I brought them up to the boil and then reduced the heat to a low simmer... and turned on the heat on my non-stick frying pan. Into the pan went 1 eggplant, cut also into bite-sized cubes, which I dry-fried for 3-4 minutes from all sides, basically just to get it nice and hot so that it would begin to dry-out some of its own moisture and to brown slightly... this helps it to maintain its structure better as well later. Once it began to brown, I added 1 onion, cut in thick slices, 1 red bell pepper cut into bite-sized chunks and a crushed clove of garlic. In they went, along with a little olive oil, some salt, pepper, a hint of cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne. Whilst they were sizzling away and browning nicely, I coarsely chopped a good handful of basil and plucked a handful of oregano leaves from their stems and added them into the mix. And then things started to become fun...
Next stop, was to add the carrot and celery to the frying pan, along with the small amount of water that they had been cooking in. I added 1 tablespoon of tomato paste when I did this and the result was that all of the fried-in flavors from the pan became deglazed, but also that the tomato paste began to form a kind-of sauce of sorts- as if by magic!
At this point I added a handful each of green and black olives, a pinch of sugar and a good splash of malt vinegar. This really brought all of the flavors together wonderfully- and the only thing that could have made things better would have been those capers!!!
After 25-30 cooking time in all, I turned off the heat and let the caponata cool and "rest" a little... in fact and indeed, the flavor tastes better the next day... or even a couple of days later, and with a coating of olive oil in a sterilized jar, this makes a wonderful preserve, which will actually improve with time. But I wasn't intending to wait long at all this evening! A couple of fresh rolls was all I needed to enjoy this rustic, Sicilian evening snack... it was a perfect treat... well... almost! Just promise me that if you give it a try- you won't forget those capers! Buon apetito!