One dish that I just couldn’t get enough of on my recent holiday to Sicily was Caponata – it’s full on addictive. This is an aubergine dish slowly cooked on a low heat in lots of strongly flavoured Sicilian extra virgin olive oil with a little bit of vinegar for sourness and cherry tomatoes for sweetness.
I won’t lie to you, this dish takes a long time to cook, but it is utterly worth it. The aubergines taste even better the next day when they’ve had 24 hours to deepen their flavour.
I ordered this dish so many times in Sicily and each café, restaurant and street food place had their own recipe. One version had just aubergines, onion and garlic as its vegetable base, another peeled the aubergines into long thin strips. The recipe below is as classic a one as I could find, but feel free to take out some of the ingredients particularly the capers and olives if they are not your thing, just as long as you stick to the essential aubergine, vinegar, olive oil, tomato, onion and garlic.
Miraculous ingredients: aubergines, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil (use the strong flavoured Sicilian, Puglian or Greek olive oils), cherry tomatoes
Caponata (Sicilian slow cooked aubergines)
2 tablespoons of salt (for salting the aubergines)
1 celery heart (the white part)
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon of tomato puree thinned with 20ml of water
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of capers (I like using the tiny non pareille capers in brine)
1 tablespoon of chopped natural black olives
2 tablespoons of vinegar (I use sherry vinegar as it has a good sweetness to it)
20g fresh parsley, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
Dice the aubergines into 2cm cubes, place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. The salt removes much of the moisture making it easier to fry the aubergines. After 30 minutes, rinse and dry the aubergine cubes with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
While the aubergine is salting, prepare the celery heart. Cut the white part of the celery into small chunks, about 1 cm and then blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan – enough oil to be 2cms high in the pan – and fry batches of aubergine on a medium heat to brown lightly on all sides. This will take about 5 minutes for each batch. Once all the aubergine has been browned, set aside.
Next, gently fry the finely sliced red onion in the same pan for 10 minutes on a low heat. You want the onion to be meltingly soft. Add the chopped garlic for the last few minutes.
Add the halved cherry tomatoes, tomato puree thinned with a little water and a small teaspoon of sugar to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes on a medium heat now. You may have to add a bit of water if your pan is too dry.
Once the onions are very soft and the cherry tomatoes have reduced to a pulp, add the browned aubergine, celery hearts and all the vinegar to the pan, stir and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Finally stir in the capers, olives, finely chopped parsley and drizzle with lots of extra virgin olive oil.
Eat with hunks of fresh white bread to mop up the sweet-sour oily juices!
Preparation time 15 minutes, salting 30 minutes, cooking 45 minutes, serves 4