There is no dish more traditionally Sicilian than caponata and nothing more addictive and seductive when it comes to time for your antipasto before starting your dinner... In fact, you will have to be careful not to over-indulge and get too full on this appetizer!
A sweet and sour stew of eggplant, celery, tomato, olives and capers, this is a dish full of extreme richness and flavors that get even better the day after... So prepare it in advance... Or just look forward to your second serving on the following day... Just like I am doing this evening!
In fact, this is the kind of dish that is great to fill into jars, boil up to make is keep for longer, and store as a preserve... You can look up how to do that elsewhere on numerous sites online... But for now, I am going to tell you how I prepared mine to eat straight away this evening!
To make enough caponata to easily please between 4-6 people with an appetizer-sized serving, I needed just one, large, round eggplant (although any others will do too of course!), 1 onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2 tablespoons of green olives, 1 tablespoon of capers, 7-8 cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato purée, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, a few leaves of basil, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 cup of malt vinegar, a little olive oil and salt and pepper for seasoning.
The main secret is to cook each ingredient separately at first, so dice up the eggplant and fry it in just a little olive oil until soft and golden and brown.
For my version of caponata this evening, I decided to boil the chopped celery stalk in just a little water... You will see why I boiled it shortly.
The onion also needs to be chopped and fried until golden brown... Hold back on the oil for both of the fried ingredients, adding just enough to give them a nice glaze and to get them sizzling.
Once the onion and eggplant are cooked and golden brown, stir them together, add a couple of tablespoons of tomato purée and the diced cherry tomatoes and stir- fry for 1-2 minutes, to get the purée well integrated and blended-in with the other ingredients.
Next, add the olives and capers and a good sprinkle of oregano and keep stirring...
And NOW, add the celery stalks and the water they have boiled in, which will of course be packed with intense flavor and which will at the same time deglaze the pan and bring up all of the good flavors that have been building up there.
Season with salt and plenty of pepper, then add your vinegar and sugar to taste. I needed just 1 tablespoon of sugar for this whole pan full of caponata, but it will depend on the strength of the vinegar you use, so add a little at a time until you get the right balance of sweet and sour.
Continue simmering and stirring for a further 5-6 minutes and then allow to cool before serving... Or be impatient and eat warm if you can't resist... I have to admit that I couldn't resist either!
Serve with a garnish of basil... But make sure to pluck those lovely, aromatic green leaves apart and add them in!!! very important... And so fragrant and delicious!
A nice spoonful or two of this each, a couple of slices of bread... A sip of wine... And a lot of smiles of satisfaction... That is what you should be aiming for when you make and serve this!
And as I said... This will be better still the day after! So try not to eat it all at once! Or simply make more!