‘Caponata is a Sicilian dish of aubergine and other vegetables, cut into cubes and deep-fried, then mixed with sultanas and pine nuts, and marinated in an agrodolce (sweet-and-sour) sauce. In some parts of Sicilia, it is traditional to mix in little pieces of dark bitter chocolate. Because it is such a Southern dish, I had never even tasted it until I started cooking at Olivio. Then, one day when we were looking for something sweet and sour as an accompaniment, I found the recipe in a book and I remember thinking: ‘This will never work!’ But we made it, the explosion of flavour was brilliant, and has become one of my favourite things. You can pile caponata on chunks of bread, or serve it with mozzarella or fried artichokes. Because it is vinegary, it is fantastic with roast meat, as it cuts through the fattiness, particularly lamb. Traditionally it is also served with seafood – perhaps grilled or fried scallops (see page 108), prawns or red mullet. With red mullet, I like to add a little more tomatoes to the caponata.’
olive oil for frying
1 onion, cut into 2cm dice
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
2 celery stalks, cut into 2cm dice
½ fennel bulb, cut into 2cm dice
1 courgette, cut into 2cm dice
3 fresh plum tomatoes, cut into 2cm dice
bunch of basil
50g pine nuts
about 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato passata
1 tablespoon caster sugar
salt and pepper
If you don’t like fennel or celery, leave them out and increase all the other ingredients slightly. Keep in mind that this is not a fixed recipe; it is something that is done according to your taste and you can change it as you like.
Cut the aubergine into 2cm cubes, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least 2 hours. Squeeze lightly to get rid of excess liquid.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan and gently sauté the onion until soft but not coloured. Transfer to a large bowl.
Put the vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer or a large, deep saucepan (no more than one-third full and heat to 180°C. Add the celery and deep-fry for 1-2 minutes, until tender and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Wait until the oil comes back up to the right temperature, then put in the fennel. Cook and drain in the same way, then repeat with the aubergine and courgette.
Add all the deep-fried vegetables to the bowl containing the onion, together with the diced tomatoes.
Tear the basil leaves and add them to the bowl with all the rest of the ingredients, seasoning well. Cover the bowl with cling film while the vegetables are still warm and leave to infuse for at least 2 hours before serving at room temperature. Don’t put it in the fridge or you will dull the flavours. It is this process of ‘steaming’ inside the cling film and cooling down very slowly that changes caponata from a kind of fried vegetable salad, with lots of different tastes, to something with a more unified, distinctive flavour.
This recipe appears in ‘Made in Italy’
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