Caponata

Caponata
Makes 1.5 quarts

Finished Caponata with a little fresh basil on top

This delicious and incredibly versatile vegetable compote that originated in Sicily is a flavor blend of tomato, eggplant, herbs and tart brined olives. It makes a delicious Bruschetta for crostini, a fabulous and quick dressing for pasta salad, a great sauce for cooked pasta or creamy polenta, and mixed with chicken or vegetable stock a quick, a tasty soup. Just be sure to have a good, hard aged cheese like Parmegiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano on hand to grate over the top.

I have tried a couple of shelf stable versions from specialty food or grocery stores but they are nothing like homemade Caponata, and I don’t recommend them.

Hints

  1. Eggplant contains a bitter acid that can be leached out with salt. If you skip that step the finished Caponata will have an unpleasant, bitter flavor.
  2. Most recipes state that Caponata will last for three days, refrigerated. Mine lasts for a solid week as long as the lid of the container is flush with the sauce.
  3. If I have them on hand or want the taste, I add bell peppers or carrots.

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut into ½” slices with skin on
Salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil + 3 tbs. for finishing
1 medium yellow or white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
4 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1, 15 oz can diced tomato
1, 15oz can crushed tomato
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup red wine
2 tbs. finely chopped fresh oregano
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ tsp. dehydrated red pepper flakes
¾ cup coarsely chopped brined green or Calamata olives
¼ cup drained capers
1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts (optional)
Grated Parmegiano Reggiano for garnish

Procedure

  1. Slice eggplant with skin on into ½” discs and lay them out on a sheet pan in a single row. Sprinkle surfaces with salt. Let stand for 30-40 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet or braising pot, heat olive oil over medium temperature. Add chopped onion and celery and cook until onions are translucent.
  3. When juice has formed on the eggplant and has shown for 10 minutes, wipe the juice away with paper towel, and cut the eggplant slices into ½” cubes. Add those to the vegetables and cook until the eggplant cubes are softened slightly, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add tomato, vinegar, wine, oregano, basil, half of the parsley and the red pepper flakes. Stir to mix and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes, until the mixture has thickened and the eggplant is soft but not mushy.
  5. Add the olives, capers and remaining parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt if necessary. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the top. Cool to room temperature before serving, or transfer to a glass or plastic container, cover (the lid should be almost flush with the Caponata) and refrigerate to store.

For Bruschetta: Spread room temperature Caponata on Bruschetta and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Really this isn't a "food" bunny. It's Caponata bruschetta garnished with grated parmesan and a pretty silly looking basil top. Tasted mighty good anyway.

For Pasta Sauce: Heat Caponata and ladle over cooked pasta. Drizzle a little more olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese over the top.

For Pasta Salad: Mix Caponata and grated Parmesan cheese with cooked and cooled pasta and garnish with finely chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley.

For Soup: Add Caponata to chicken stock, heat and serve with grated Parmesan cheese over the top.

For Panini: Lightly brush crusty artisan bread slices with olive oil. Put two slices of proscuitto one, top it with a thin layer of Caponata and put slices of fresh mozzarella over the Caponata. Put the other slice of bread over the cheese and grill. Let the panini set up for 1 or 2 minutes after it cooks so it won’t drip when you eat it.

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