The savory dish most people probably associate with Sicily than any other is caponata, an eggplant delight of purported Spanish origin that has spread throughout the Peninsula. But much of the caponata eaten outside of its volcanic island home is a shadow of what it should be–a piquant delicacy ideal for perking up a lethargic appetite on a hot summer day.
4 kg (8.8 lbs) eggplants
200 g (1 cup) Kalamata or Gaeta olives, pitted
100 g (1/2 cup) salted capers, rinsed
2 kg (4.4 lb) celery
3 large onions, finely sliced
4 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
100 ml (3 fl oz) wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
Fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp. pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Begin by stripping the stringy fibers from the celery stalks, and blanch them in lightly salted water for 5 minutes. Drain them, cut them into small chunks, sauté them in a little oil, and set them aside.
Wash the eggplants, dice them, put the pieces in a large colander, sprinkle them liberally with salt, and let them sit for 30 minutes to draw out their bitter juices. Once the eggplants have been "purged," rinse away the salt and pat the pieces dry.
Sauté the onions in olive oil; once they become translucent, add the capers, pine nuts, olives, and tomatoes. Continue cooking, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the tomatoes are done, about 15 minutes, and then remove the pot from the stove.
While the tomatoes are cooking, heat some olive oil in a large skillet, and fry the diced eggplant. Do this in several batches to keep the oil from cooling down.
When the last batch is done, return the tomato pot to the fire and stir in the fried eggplant, together with the previously sautéed celery. Cook for several minutes over a low flame, stirring gently, then pour in the vinegar and the sugar. When the vinegar has almost completely evaporated remove the pot from the fire and let it cool.
Serve your caponata at room temperature, garnished with fresh basil. There will be a lot, but don't worry, because it keeps for several days in the fridge, and it is common Sicilian knowledge that tastes better after a few days. Makes a perfect sandwich filler too...
Image credits: joana hard, miss_yasmina