Back in the 70s, salsa began its push to pass ketchup as America’s favorite condiment, and not long thereafter, hummus quickly began to assimilate into the American diet.
Nowadays, like yogurt, there are countless flavors and styles of salsa and hummus lining the grocery aisles.
Similar to hummus, there’s another Mediterranean condiment that hasn’t quite hit the big time, but it’s a fast-growing segment, especially during the warm summer months when everyone is looking for a healthy, delicious mid-day snack, a picnic appetizer or a sumptuous beginning to an evening dinner gathering.
Caponata is, by definition, a Sicilian dish that is generally served as a salad, side dish or relish. It’s typically composed of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, pine nuts, capers and vinegar, all cooked with olive oil. It is most often served slightly chilled or at room temperature, with toasted or grilled slices of bread, pita or crackers.
I’ll share with you my Caponata recipe below, which is a rather standard version that should appeal to most everyone. You can, of course, add, subtract or modify the amounts of any of the ingredients, keeping in mind that its base is primarily eggplant.
Sicilian Eggplant Caponata: Makes about 7 cups
1 Medium Eggplant
¾ Cups + 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Cups Onions, Chopped
1 TBSP Garlic, Chopped
1 Cup Celery, Finely Chopped
1 Cup Tomatoes, Cored, Peeled, Seeded and Chopped
½ Cup Green Olives, Pitted, Halved
¼ Cup Capers, Rinsed and Drained
2 TBSP Fresh Basil, Chopped
1 TBSP Pine Nuts, Toasted
1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 TBSP Granulated Sugar
To Taste Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Peel and cube the eggplant. Place the cubes in a colander, and salt thoroughly. Let drain for one hour. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat half the ¾ cup oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sauté half the eggplant until golden brown (5-8 minutes). Remove to a strainer, and drain.
- Add the remaining ¾ cup of the oil, and then sauté the rest of the eggplant and drain.
- Wipe the pan clean, add the additional 2 TBSP of oil, and sauté the onions, garlic and celery just until tender.
- Add the tomatoes, cover the pan and cook 4-5 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook additional 5 minutes.
- Add the sautéed eggplant, the olives, capers, basil and pine nuts.
- Combine the vinegar and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into the eggplant mixture and simmer covered for 5-10 minutes.
- Season to taste, and cool.
As mentioned earlier, I personally prefer to serve my Caponata with ½” thick slices of French Baguette bread, which I spread with garlic butter and broil until crispy on the edges. I then pile them into a small wicker basket and serve them next to the Caponata, which I place in an earthenware crock with a small spoon to allow my guests to top their bread to taste.
Substitutions and additions.
As you can imagine, there are chefs and cooks of all levels who enjoy adapting this recipe to their tastes or to make it especially their own. Here are some suggestions:
- Add 2 to 3 TBSP of currants when cooking the tomatoes.
- Substitute balsamic vinegar for some or all of the red wine vinegar.
- Add a pinch of cinnamon.
- Add a pinch of oregano.
- Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to give your Caponata a spicy kick!
- You can also add fresh thyme or mint.