Caponata, or as my Sicilian family calls it, Capunatina, is a Southern Italian classic. Really it comes from Sicily and you can tell that this one has Arab roots. It’s easy to mess up Caponata so it’s important to take every ingredient seriously and take it slow. Here’s my recipe for this dish from heaven:
Take one eggplant and cut it into cubes. Don’t peel it-the skin adds flavor. Put the cubes in a colander and salt it liberally. Toss the cubes and let sit in the sink for an hour so the bitterness drains from the eggplant.
Meanwhile, cut up 4 stalks of celery, 1 onion, red or white, 1 cup black or green Sicilian olives (don’t use those Kalamatas that are all bitter and salty), 1/2 cup basil, and three cloves of garlic.
Saute garlic, onions and celery in a pan. Add 1/2 can of whole tomatoes or 3 fresh medium sized tomatoes, diced. If using canned, whole, then add them to the celery with their juices, but once in the pan, take a pair of scissors and cut them into pieces. Let this all simmer for 10 minutes, but add salt, pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. Add olives and (optional) raisins and pine nuts).
In a separate, large saute pan, add 1/3 cup of EVOO and let it get hot over medium heat. Add eggplant and saute until really cooked through. This step is key because if your eggplant isn’t all the way cooked, then it will taste funny and the texture will not be good. Once cooked, add the celery mixture to the eggplant and stir together. Let this cook, covered for 10-15 minutes on low heat. Taste it to see if it needs more salt or pepper and if it doesn’t taste rich enough, let it cook longer. When it is done add the basil and stir.
This dish can be served hot, cold or room temp with flatbread or pitas.