Unless you are of Sicilian decent, you might not recognize the word caponata.
And truth be told there is no firm translation of it other than to say it is a sweet and sour eggplant relish of sorts. I just made lot of it because my garden is overflowing with eggplant right now, so now is the time.
Caponata can be used for many things. Top some grilled sourdough bread with it or make it the topping to a piece of grilled swordfish or tuna. It is perfect as a sauce for pasta too, and for pizza or focaccia and vegetarians will eat it up, well, just because it is full of other good things like onions, celery and capers.
Another bonus is that caponata can be frozen in plastic or glass jars. Come the snows of January, opening a jar of homemade caponata can banish those winter blues in a flash.
Makes about 9 1/2 cups
8 young eggplant (4 to 5 inches long), washed, trimmed, and cut in 1-inch cubes.
1 cup tomato paste
Coarse sea salt
1/2 cup capers in wine vinegar, drained
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced celery (about 2 ribs)
1 cup drained and chopped green or black olives in brine
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups peanut oil
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons baking cocoa
4 onions, thinly sliced (3 1/2 cups)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Place eggplant cubes in a colander, salt them, and let them sweat in the sink for 1 hour, then rinse and dry them.
In a small saucepan, add the celery to the boiling water and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain the celery, saving the water and set aside.
In a large skillet or electric frying pan, heat half the peanut oil. Add have the eggplant pieces and fry until softened and lightly browned, about 12 -15 minutes. Drain the pieces on brown paper and continue with the remaining eggplant and peanut oil.
In the same skillet, heat the olive oil, add the onions, and sauté until soft and glazed-looking, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and mix in tomato paste, reserved celery water, olives capers, sugar, vinegar, and cocoa. Mix well and let the mixture simmer about 5 minutes.
Add the eggplant and the celery pieces to the skillet, and mix well to coat the pieces with the sauce. Simmer the mixture uncovered for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Because this recipe makes a lot, I spoon the mixture into jars, cover, and store some in the refrigerator and freeze the rest. Use as needed. You may want to cut this recipe in half, although this caponata never lasts long in my house.
Variation Serve the caponata in an eggplant that has been cut in half lengthwise and scooped out. Surround the eggplant with slices of semolina bread, lightly fried in a fruity olive oil.