Rediscovering Caponata

A couple weeks ago I was inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Sicily to make a classic Sicilian dish – caponata. Caponata is a vegetable relish featuring eggplant. The first and last time I had caponata was at the now-closed F.illi Ponte restaurant in Tribeca, NYC in 2008. I dined there twice that summer and though I can’t remember anything else I ate, I can recall the distinct flavors of the luscious eggplant dish as if it were yesterday. For six years I’ve been wondering what the heck it was, thinking it was perhaps a specialty of the house that I’d never experience again, but alas, it’s a well-known Sicilian staple and all it took was an evening of Netflix for caponata and I to reconnect.

Caponata is a wonderful dish for a few reasons. First, it is healthy, flavorful, vegetarian, and oh-so-colorful. Just looking at it, you get the feeling you are doing right by your taste buds and your health. Second, it is very easy to make. Third, you can make a big batch of it and it will keep well and, like casseroles and stews, it will get better each day as the flavors meld and deepen. Best served cold or at room temperature, we ate our caponata as a side dish and also as a starter atop Italian bread. Caponata is really versatile and goes well with a variety of foods because of its tangy, sweet-and-sour (“agrodolce”) flavor. I will definitely be making it again soon, especially as we move into summer and I want to cook cooling yet filling dishes that utilize fresh veggies and herbs.

caponata on the stove

caponata on the stove

Caponata a la Noelle
inspired by Mario Batali’s Eggplant Caponata and The Joy of Cooking’s Eggplant Relish (Caponata)

1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes, drained
12 pitted olives (preferably green, but I used black)
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
a pinch each of cinnamon and red pepper flakes
black salt to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley for garnish + 5 sprigs mint

Makes about 4 cups (it lasted us a week as a side dish)

Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes, place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let sit about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, pine nuts, and chili flakes and cook 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and has a hint of color.

Remove the veggies from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and cook the eggplant cubes, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.

Return the celery-onion mixture to the pan and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until thickened. Adjust the seasonings as needed, remove from the pan, and let cool. Before serving, garnish with parsley and mint.

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