Our dear Sicilian friend, Michele Polizzi, is an eggplant genius and his Caponota sings with the flavors of Sicily. He uses Sicilian eggplant, (round, richly purple with a hint of white coursing through the bulb,) but if you can’t find them, use small Italian eggplant. If all else fails, go for the jumbo American eggplant! While the Caponata looks like a pile of mush, try it. Use it as a side, on bruschetta, or as an entrée served over pasta, rice or cous cous. You’ll welcome the taste of this remote, but beautiful island — Sicily!
CAN BE MADE A DAY AHEAD FOR OPTIMUM FLAVOR!
Mise en Place:
What You Need:
3 medium Sicilian eggplants, sliced and diced into large chunks
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks of tender celery, taken from the interior of the head.
Diced and blanched (see blanching instructions below)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (add 1 tablespoon more
vinegar if you like a sour taste)
1 tablespoon sugar, more if needed
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
50 grams pitted green & black olives
Salt & pepper to taste
60 grams chopped parsley.
Utensils & Tools:
Bowl with water and ice
Wash and dry eggplant. Slice, then cut into large chunks. Sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain in a colander that’s placed in the sink for half an hour — to extract the bitter juices. Put weights on the eggplant if possible, to push the juices through. Rinse off thoroughly under cold water, drain & pat dry on paper towels.
Blanch diced celery in boiling water (see below) in the small saucepan until tender. Remove to bowl of ice for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
Oil. Eggplant Cubes.
Heat olive oil in large skillet. When the oil is wavy, sauté eggplant cubes until they are translucent – at least 10-15 minutes. Transfer them to a large bowl.
Add chopped onion to same skillet & sauté gently. After 1 minute, add chopped garlic and sauté until both are soft.
With the slotted spoon, lift the chopped tomatoes from the can and stir into onion/garlic mixture. Add a little of the tomato juice. Sauté, uncovered, over a moderate heat for 8-10 minutes. This blends the flavors and begins the sauce reduction.
Wine Vinegar. Sugar. Salt. Pepper.
Stir in the above and simmer, uncovered, until sauce reduces. Taste and add more sugar or vinegar, depending on your tastes.
Blanched Celery. Capers. Olives.
Add to sauce. Stir.
Add to the sauce. Stir gently. Taste and season.
Top with chopped parsley to serve.
The beauty of caponata is that it can be served either hot or cold, and the longer it sits, the more the flavors blend.
Occasionally a recipe will call for “blanching” vegetables. It’s a process that’s faster (2-3 minutes) than the timed “parboiling” you do for string beans, and maintains the crunch of the vegetable. Blanching is ideal when you want to sauté the vegetable after the blanch because it maintains the color of the vegetable and allows for a faster sauté. Here’s how you do it:
1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a fast boil.
2. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and cold water and put near the boiling saucepan.
3. Add your vegetables to the saucepan and boil for 1-2 minutes.
4. Test for doneness by taking one piece out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon, place it in the ice bowl, then sample for slight crunch. If more time is needed, blanch for another minute or so. You want a crunch, but more on the al dente side.
5. Move all vegetables to the ice bowl with the slotted spoon. Cool off for 1-2 minutes, then turn out into a strainer.
6. Empty the ice bowl and place the strainer with the vegetables over the bowl to further drain.
7. Pat with a paper towel to help the draining process.