For those of you who have never heard of it, caponata is a Sicilian dish, a versatile sweet and sour eggplant appetizer. Just to admit something right off the bat, my family hates the way I pronounce caponata. I am the subject of much hilarity in my attempts to make it sound very Italian, so I tried saying "eggplant appetizer" or pronouncing it with an American accent instead. Nothing seems to work, so I have to ignore the jokes and move on!
As you know from prior blogs, I have been attending some of the cooking demonstrations at the New York Botanical Gardens. I have realized, happily, that if you have cooking skills, a demonstration is all you need! That sure saves money on classes, which I have considered, and may still do to upgrade my baking skills. However, for plain old cooking, there is nothing like a chef going through his favorite recipe for you. In fact, at most of them, I felt like I was reading a great story and couldn't wait to get to the ending.
Caponata I was particularly interested in because in Sicilian restaurants, caponata is as ubiquitous as salsa is in a Mexican restaurant. When I was in Sicily last year, it was served before or during most meals. It is used as appetizer or a topping over fish or chicken or can be used simply as a side dish. It can be served cold, room temperature, or even hot.
Right at the outset I appeal to you not to be intimidated by the seeming complexity of this recipe. It is not really that difficult! Dicing and sauteing the vegetables is the most time consuming part, but after that, it is just a matter of mixing the ingredients in a large bowl and correcting for taste.
This recipe is great for a party appetizer. It is great over crostini, or toasted Italian bread rounds, which can be bought or made fresh. This particular recipe called for making fresh tomato ketchup, intriguing in itself, and is a mix of many sweet and savory ingredients, including raisins, which gives a surprising burst of sweetness. Make sure you do not use store-bought ketchup! I have tweaked the original recipe a bit, as I always do. Here is is:
CAPONATA with HOMEMADE CROSTINI
1 large unpeeled black-skinned eggplant, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or more (for sauteing)
2 cups diced red and green bell peppers
1 cup celery, sliced thin
2 cups onions, diced (optional)
6 tablespoons (or more) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup small capers, rinsed (about 4 tablespoons)
1 cup raisins
1 cup brined black and green olives, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup homemade ketchup, recipe below
1 loaf of long Italian bread or thin baguette
Spray olive oil (I use a Misto, but you can buy it premade)
salt and pepper
Thinly sliced prociutto or basil for garnish if especially ambitious
Saute each vegetable separately in a large frying pan with one or two tablespoonfuls of oil. This is to retain optimum flavor. Do not crowd the pan as the vegetables will steam, not sauté. Make sure you do not overcook the vegetables. As soon as they are cooked through and tender, but not mushy, remove from the pan. They should retain their shape and have an almost "al dente" quality. GREAT TIP: Don't forget to saute the garlic in this manner: start with a cold pan, and cook until tender only. Browning or burning will give it a bitter taste. Also, make sure the celery is tender but do not burn or overcook. Taste as you go!
Place cooked ingredients in a large bowl. Add the capers, raisins and olives. Add just enough homemade ketchup (recipe below) to bind the ingredients. You can serve this right away, but the next day, it is even better!
As an appetizer, serve room temperature or cold, on crostini (recipe below).
Use hot as a side dish or topping for fish or chicken. You can mix it with rice or pasta. A really versatile dish!
HOMEMADE TOMATO KETCHUP (two variations)
1) Cooked version:
1 can 28 ounce can tomato puree
1 cup wine vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt.
Cook down until it is the consistency of ketchup.
2) Uncooked version:
1 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Slice the long bread or baguette thinly. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spray with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place in a 400 degree oven on top rack until lightly brown. In a hot oven this should only take a few minutes, watch carefully! You can store these when cool in a plastic bag.
Next time, a really traditional dish of pasta, bread crumbs, and marinara.
See you then!