So many people I know don’t like eggplant. I didn’t like it as a kid either. But besides childhood pickiness, most people don’t like eggplant because they haven’t had it made correctly. It can be bitter and have a weird texture. But cooked well, it has a meaty and silky taste.
Caponata is best known as a dish from Sicily. There are many variations to this traditional version but this one is my favorite. This recipe is also perfect for a summer picnic as Caponata is usually served at room temperature.
Caponata differs from the French Ratatouille in that each component is prepared separately and combined in the bowl. Ratatouille is stewed all together.
Makes enough for a picnic of 8.
Ingredients and Directions:
For the caponata
- About 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cups of 1/4-inch dice unpeeled eggplant (about 1 large eggplant)
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 1/3 cup fined chopped celery (about 1/2 a celery bunch)
- 1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives
- 3 tablespoons chopped drained bottled capers
- 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins or currants
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted lightly
- 3 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch diced (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leafed parsley leaves
For the bruschetta
- One loaf of Italian bread; cut diagonally (on the bias) into 1/2 slices
Make the caponata: In a heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons (see Note) of the oil over moderately high heat until it hot but not smoking, in it cook the eggplant, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it is tender, and transfer it to a bowl. To the skillet add 2 tablespoons oil and in it cook the onion and the celery over moderate heat, stirring, for 5 minutes and transfer to the bowl. Add one tablespoon of oil olive and add the olives, the capers, the vinegar, the sugar, the raisins, the pine nuts, and the tomatoes to the pan and cook the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, and transfer it to the bowl. Stir in the parsley, let the caponata cool, and chill it, covered, overnight to let the flavors combine. Season the caponata with salt and pepper.
Make the bruschetta: Grill the bread on a grill about 4 inches over glowing coals for 1 minute on each side, brush the toasts on one side with the oil, and sprinkle them with salt to taste.
Top each toast generously with some of the caponata, arrange 2 or 3 toasts on each of 4 plates.
Note: Perhaps the trickiest part of cooking eggplant is using the right about of olive oil. With the olive oil in the pan, when you add the eggplant, it will initially soak up the olive oil. As you cook it, the eggplant will release the olive back into the pan. The trick is to use the right amount of olive oil so at the height of the cooking, the eggplant is not sticking or burning in the pan. Cooking over a hot but not high heat is important. Practice using more olive oil initially and dialing it back. If the eggplant is too oily, you can always place on paper towels to drain.