Friday, July 13, 2012

Sicilian Caponata à la Dorothea






A delicious Mediterranean aubergine stew from southern Italy, Caponata is a classic Sicilian dish that can be enjoyed as a warm vegetable side dish or as a cold antipasto. A dense condiment of chunky fried eggplant and other fresh vegetables and seasonings, Caponata is jam-packed with flavour — sweet, sour, salty all at once. Using a vibrant mixture of fresh produce from the island, the dish traditionally includes eggplant, onion, celery, tomatoes, olives, capers and basil.

And this is exactly what Caponata is about: a truly Sicilian combination that brings together the island’s abundance of local vegetables that grow all over the island, to produce an explosion of sweet and sour flavours that just make you want to eat more and more of it. In every restaurant and every kitchen, you'll find a different version and an opinion. The truth is, Caponata is made with whatever vegetables are available depending on the season, but the principle is always the same: the vegetables are fried, each one separately, to retain the integrity of each flavour, then combined in a sweet and sour sauce.

My good friend Dorothea is an excellent cook and created this beautiful dish for us earlier this week. Artfully presented and full of fresh summer flavours, she served her Caponata as a small stack topped with a generous slice of Buffalo Mozzarella and finished with a drizzle of top quality aged Balsamic vinegar, a fresh basil leaf and warm slice of grilled bruschetta. Divine.







Sicilian Caponata
Serves 4

4 medium aubergines, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped

2 anchovy filets, chopped
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced crosswise
5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 oz green olives such as Cerignola, pitted and coarsely chopped
3 tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil, plus whole leaves for garnish
4 slices of Buffalo Mozzarella
Aged Balsamic Vinegar, for drizzling


Sprinkle the aubergines with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30-60 minutes. Then rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat some of the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the aubergine over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. When cooked, using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining olive oil, onions and anchovies, and cook until soft about 12-15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and celery and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, about 5–6 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the olives and cook for 20 minutes. Add the cooled aubergine and the capers.

In a separate bowl, mix together the red wine vinegar and sugar. Add this to the pan and cook for 10 minutes. It's ready when the red wine vinegar has been absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl, mix well and set aside and let cool slightly. Add the chopped basil.

To serve, form the caponata into short stacks, top with a slice of Bufallo Mozzarella and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar. Top with a basil leaf and a slice of grilled bruschetta on the side. Serve at room temperature.


Simple Bruschetta

4 slices baguette, cut on a diagonal
1 clove garlic
extra-virgin olive oil

Slice the bread and grill in the oven until slightly brown. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the bread immediately with the cut garlic clove then brush with olive oil. Serve with the caponata.