Caponata Cooked in the Tagine
Caponata is the quintessential Sicilian "antipasto" or appetizer that is to be found on the menu of every eatery on the island- and rightly so! It is, in its many variations, one of the most delicious dishes of all!
The most important ingredient in caponata is eggplant, which combined with a number of other ingredients is stewed and cooked down into a wonderful, soft and chunky relish of sorts, that captures all of the colors and flavors of the island in one. It really is that special!
Many, MANY recipes claim to be the traditional or original... and all are similar... and yet probably no two are completely alike! Which I personally think is a good thing! This is a dish that everyone makes their own way- and you should make yours your own too! I will share with you the basics, I am suggesting in this incarnation of my recipe. that you might consider using a tagine...
But please- go ahead and make the dish distinctive and make it suit your own taste!
Please forgive me my friends for somehow having lost the ingredients photo for this evening, but let's start with the main ingredients, which you can see in this picture and I will tell you about the rest after that.
To make one good plateful, which will easily make 4 good-sized appetizer servings, I needed 1/2 of a round eggplant- or one smallish "regular-shaped" one, 1 red bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, 1 onion, 1 stalk of celery... and now to the other ingredients- 1 tablespoon of capers, 7-8 green olives, 5-6 sprigs of thyme, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 4-5 leaves of basil, a little parsley, 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar...
Nothing too unusual, exotic or extravagant... it is all in the combination!
Normally, the ingredients for caponata would be fried- in some versions all together, in others individual and then added together at the end.
In any case, usually you would need quite a lot of olive oil, quite a bit of time stood at the stove stirring... and those are 2 things I personally do not always want to have to do when it comes to preparing my food- which is where the tagine really comes into it's own!
For this version, I heated up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the tagine and then added the peppers, onion, eggplant and celery. Obviously, you want to use a good olive oil... but don't hate me for this- my tip is- if your olives or capers came in olive oil- use the stuff you have in the jar... that is what I did! because of course it is LOADED with flavor!
Speaking of flavor, season with salt and pepper and add the thyme- then pop on the lid and let it sizzle for a minute or two before giving it a good stir and returning the lid.
After 4-5 minutes, things will have begun to sweat down and turn brown- and now is the perfect time to add the cherry tomatoes, tomato paste and the basil, which I tore up into smaller pieces.
Fry with the other ingredients for a minute or two and then deglaze the tagine with a good splash of vinegar- but stand back when you do this and don't breath in the vapors! haha! There is no danger of course- but it might take your breath away for a while if you don't!
Add a pinch of sugar, the oregano and a dash of water and replace the lid... only this time, don't touch it for the next 15 minutes.
After around 30 minutes of cooking, add the olives and capers, check the seasoning, give it a good stir and replace the lid. Let it simmer away and sweat down and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
All of those ingredients have lots of moisture, so with the lid on and the steam that builds up in the tagine, everything will gently cook down together in their own juices and flavors will become richer and more intense- and by now- you will be smelling the wonderful caponata beginning to come together.
After around 45 minutes, everything will be cooked through and tender and delicious. The thyme leaves will have fallen from the twigs, which can be removed, and the juices will have reduced down to a sweet and sour, herb-infused perfection!
The caponata needs to cool down before you enjoy it- so pop the lid back on and let the residual heat trapped in the tagine continue the cooking process the whole remaining time... it's all good!
Add a last little sprinkle of parsley and stir it in before enjoying your caponata with some fresh crusty bread and a glass of wine. Or here's an idea- if you are having guests around or throwing a party, you could use this as an incredible topping for bruschetta. Or even as a topping for a pasta dish. Or simply as a side salad... it's a pretty wonderful and versatile thing you have made!
So, buon appetito in any case... whichever way you decide to enjoy it!