Sunday, August 21, 2011

Things that make me happy...eggplant caponata

I love the history of food. I love to eat something Italian and recognize its North Africa and the Middle Eastern ingredients. At one time or another, Sicily was ruled by the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans, so Sicilian food is like a crossroads. My favorite thing about Sicilian food are those dishes that contain the ingredients brought by the Arabs: citrus, clove, eggplant, pine nuts, currants, to name a few. Caponata, which is an eggplant dish, is the kind of food where you can taste history in every bite.

I've had caponata all over the place, and many different cultures have their version of it. There are a lot of ingredients that go into this, and I've tried a few different recipes, but this one, by Mario Batali, is my favorite.

  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 sprigs mint, chopped
In a large 12 to 14-inch saute pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until softened.

Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve the caponata spooned on crostini or in middle of table with bread on side to allow guests to help themselves.

Basic Tomato Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup extra vergin olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
  • Salt
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Yield: 4 cups

 Sounds like a lot, but this is a very easy recipe, and the caponata gets better by the day. And the smell of sauteed onion, currants and pine nuts made it worth every step, believe me.

Onion, currants, hot pepper and pine nuts


About to be devoured

 This made quite a large batch, but it only lasted for about 2 days in my apartment. And eggplant is in season now, so take advantage.

My history geek moment: Arab rule in Sicily only lasted a bit over 100 years. During that time, the Arabs introduced many foods to Sicily, such as oranges, lemons, pistachios and sugar cane, along with those mentioned above.