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Caponata - Eggplant Salad

The word caponata has no English translation, but it is usually described as an eggplant appetizer salad with an agrodolce, or sweet-and-sour taste. This traditional family recipe is my favorite. Cocoa, the surprising ingredient here, gives this dish its clean finish. Cocoa was introduced into Sicilian cooking in the seventeenth century by the Spaniards. Other versions of caponata include bits of fried sweet peppers, pear slices, and raw almonds, and cinnamon and cloves are also added. I use small eggplant from my garden. This recipe makes a lot but keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks. MAKES ABOUT 9 1/2 CUPS

Ingredients

8 young eggplant (4 to 5 inches long), cut in 1-inch cubes

Coarse salt

1 1/4 cups thinly celery (about 2 ribs)

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/2 cups peanut oil

1/2 cup olive oil

4 onions, thinly sliced (3 1/2 cups)

1 cup tomato paste

1 cup chopped Sicilian olives in brine, drained

1/2 cup capers in wine vinegar, drained

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons baking cocoa

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the eggplant pieces in a colander, salt them, and let them sweat in the sink for 2 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 half the eggplant pieces and fry until softened and lightly browned, about 12 to 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 the 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.

Place the caponata on a serving platter, cover, and marinate several hours at room temperature before serving.

Note:  Because this recipe makes a lot, I spoon the mixture into jars, cover, and store them in the refrigerator and 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 Italian bread, lightly fried in olive oil.

This recipe is from Nella Cucina by Mary Ann Esposito, published by Hearst Books in 1993.

This recipe is featured on show 402 – Two Caponatas.

 

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