Friday, 18 April 2014

Sicilian Brilliance

Caponata Siciliana
Sicilian Caponata

No dish is more typically Sicilian than Caponata- in embodies all of the colors, flavors and diversity of our beautiful little island, its varied cultural backgrounds and its flamboyant culinary style... oh yeah- and it tastes pretty amazing too!

You will find some incarnation of Caponata on every menu at every restaurant in Sicily and more probably than not, you will find that no 2 are alike, although they may all use the same ingredients... and I like that! I love food that carries its makes signature! 

Although I have made caponata on many occasions, this evening was the first time that I prepared it "properly"- meaning in the classic manner, pre-cooking each ingredient separately first and then combining them at the end with the herbs and spices that go to make it so vibrant and delicious. Of course, you can simply fry all of the ingredients together at the same time... but for a number of reasons, the result, tasty as it may be, is never quite as good as doing it this way. It is cutting corners... which is fine... but this evening I went that extra smile... and yep! This was the best caponata I have ever made... just sayin' ;-)

The ingredients I used to make what was easily enough for 4 servings, were, 1 small eggplant, 1 zucchini, 2 sticks of celery, 2 Spring onions, 2 shallots, 1 yellow pepper, 1 handful each of olives, capers, pine nuts, oregano, parsley, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. And a little patience. And 2 frying pans going at the same time, to SAVE time... read on!

The first thing I did was to toast the pine nuts in a dry pan until they were lightly golden brown- basically I was toasting them to make them crisper in texture... but it doesn't hurt if they turn gorgeous and golden at the same time!

Next, I sautéed the celery stalks, cut into bite-sized slices, together with the spring onion and shallot also in nice little chunks. I fried them for 2-3 minutes until they were beginning to turn brown, then added a pinch of sugar and a splash of water, before putting the lid on the pan to let them steam for maybe a minute, making the celery and onion nice and sweet. Once the last remaining water had evaporated away, I set them to one side to cool down and carried on with the bell pepper...

I halved the pepper and then removed the seeds and cut it into bite-sized "slivers", cutting small slices off at an angle, just so that all of the ingredients that were going into the caponata did not have the same shape. I chose yellow, quite simply because of the color- any color will do of course- I will leave that decision up to you!

The same thing happened with the zucchini, although I cut it into 4 lengthwise and then cut those into slices into bite-sized chunks, but as with the other ingredients,  I fried them first with just the barest minimum of olive oil, then added a splash of water, steamed them briefly and then let the steam dissipate away.

The next of the main ingredients was the absolute star of the show when it comes to caponata- the eggplant. And again, I followed the same procedure as with the other ingredients, giving them their little steam bath to help move things along quicker as well as to cut down on excess fat... because sometimes caponata can tend to be a little bit greasy- and that is something that I set about changing from the get-go with my recipe.

Last but not least of the ingredients that needed cooking were the tomatoes, to which I also added a little sugar before frying, which gave them a nice shine... and also added some much needed sweetness for when the ingredients stopped just being simple ingredients and started becoming tasty and delicious caponata.

The transformation took place when I returned all of the ingredients to my frying pan, along with a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste, a good tablespoon of oregano, salt, pepper, a hint of cayenne and a pinch of cinnamon.

I stirred everything carefully but thoroughly together, added a good splash of red wine vinegar, a cupful of boiling water and kept stirring until all of the moisture had thickened considerably... all no problem with the tomato paste in there. 

After 4-5 minutes of stirring, I added the finely chopped parsley, the olives and the capers and with that everything was done that needed doing. Except for toasting a couple of breakfast rolls, whilst I plated-up the caponata and sprinkled it with the crispy, golden pine nuts... mmm! How I love them!

The great thing about caponata, is that as wonderful as it is straight from the pan... a day later it is better... and better... and better! Not that mine is going to be around for that long, I don't think!

In any case- do give this a try! And maybe make a little bit more of it than I did... because I think you might just like it! And your friends and family too!

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