Quintessentially Sicilian, caponata is a wonderful sweet-and-sour vegetable stew, with enough assertiveness to make it gorgeous eaten on its own with a rustic loaf, spooned over bruschetta, served with pasta or rice, or as a side dish.
Caponata majors on generous chunks of aubergine, and I've added celery, peppers, tomatoes and onions as backup, all enlivened by tangy vinegar and capers and plump, sweet raisins. I understand that the addition of peppers in my version is likely to get me strung up in some Palermitano or Syracusan households but I'll bet that at some point a Sicilian cook with a glut of sweet red peppers from their smallholding of a garden has chopped them up and chucked them in.
Try scattering toasted pine nuts or almonds over the finished dish, and green olives, chillies or courgette make a delicious addition too. The only thing I must insist on is that caponata should be eaten warm rather than piping hot. It is so much better for it.
(serves 4 as a main, but more as a side dish)
- 2 aubergines, cut into dice about 2cm square
- 2 red peppers, cut into large dice
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into a large dice
- 2 celery stalks, washed and cut into chunks
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp tomato purée
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 1 tbsp capers
- 1 tbsp pine kernels, lightly toasted in a hot pan
- Salt and pepper, a pinch of each
Heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onion and celery and sauté over a medium heat until they take on a golden colour, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the aubergine and the peppers and cook until both begin to soften, again about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée, cook for two or three minutes more and then add the tinned tomatoes, the red wine vinegar and the sugar and stir well. Cook over a gentle heat for a further 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Finally add the capers, the raisins and the salt and pepper, cook for a couple of minutes and then stir in the pine nuts. Take off the heat and leave until the caponata is warm rather than hot. Serve.
This is a wonderful dish on its own, but is great as a side dish. It can be used in much the same way as you would with ratatouille, or with pasta, rice, cous cous, quinoa, roasted meats and fowl, crispy skinned roast duck, and oily fish like sardines, tuna, salmon and the like. It can also be used as part of a full-on antipasti spread. If you like heat sprinkle in some dried chilli flakes at the start, as you add the aubergine and peppers.
Wine: Stay Sicilian and pour a generous glass of red-fruited Nero d'avola to complement the delicious sweet-salty-sour charm of the sauce.