Caponata alla Sicilana

Lo Scoglio Ubriaco's Caponata

Lo Scoglio Ubriaco’s Caponata

The savory dish more people probably associate with Sicily than any other is caponata, a (generally) eggplanty delight that has now spread throughout the Peninsula, much in the manner of cotoletta alla milanese. As is the case with the cotoletta, which is one thing in Milano and too often something else elsewhere, much of the caponata one encounters outside of Sicily is a shadow of what it should be — a zesty summer dish that’s perfect eaten cold, and ideal for perking up an indolent appetite on a hot day.

For that matter, it’s much too good to abandon after the summer and is now made year round, in an infinite variety of forms. Some are purely vegetarian, whereas what’s made in Palermo can also contain fish. Though there is never any one recipe for a traditional dish, the recipe that follows serves as a base for a great many variations, some of which follow below. The recipes are based on those in Pino Correnti’s Il Libro d’Oro della Cucina e dei Vini di Sicilia.

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) eggplants
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) green olives packed in brine, pitted
  • 2 ounces (60 g) salted capers, well rinsed
  • 1 1/4 pounds (500 g) celery ribs
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (optional)
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) onions
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Basil
  • 3/8 cup pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Begin by stripping the filaments from the celery sticks, then blanch them in lightly salted water for five minutes. Drain them, cut them into bite-size pieces, sauté them in a little oil, and set them aside.

Wash the eggplant, dice them, put the pieces in a strainer, sprinkle them liberally with salt, and let them sit for several hours to draw out the bitter juices. While they’re sitting, blanch, peel, seed and chop the tomatoes.

Once the eggplant has sat, rinse away the salt and pat the pieces dry. Finely slice the onion and sauté them in olive oil; once they have turned 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 fire.

While the tomatoes are cooking heat a second pot of oil and fry the diced eggplant, in several batches to keep the oil from getting chilled. When the last batch is done, return the tomato pot to the fire and stir in the eggplant, together with the previously sautéed celery. Cook for several minutes over a low flame, stirring gently, then stir in the vinegar and the sugar; when the vinegar has almost completely evaporated remove the pot from the fire and let it cool.

Serve the caponata cold with a garnish of fresh basil; it will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

And now some variations:

Capunata Palermitana chi Purpiceddi, Palermo-Style Caponata with Fish

To serve 8 you’ll need:

  • The ingredients listed above, plus:
  • 1 pound (450 g) baby octopus (or squid), cleaned
  • 4/5 cup (100 g) flour
  • 2 artichokes, sliced into eighths and blanched

The method follows that given above, with the following variations: Flour the celery sticks, artichokes, olives and capers, and fry them. If the octopus are very small fry them whole, otherwise chop them before frying them. Drain all the fried ingredients well on absorbent paper, add them to the tomato mixture, and finish cooking as above.

Capunata Barunissa di Carni, The Baroness of Carni’s Caponata

As Mr. Correnti observes, the Noble Lady must have been given to flights of fancy, sensuous, and wealthy.

To serve 8 you’ll need:

  • All the ingredients of the preceding two versions except the octopus.
  • 3/4 pound (350 g) swordfish filets, thinly sliced, floured and fried.
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) diced lobster tail, barely blanched
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) asparagus tips (wild asparagus will be best), steamed
  • 1/4 pound (110 g) shrimp, boiled until just done and shelled
  • A scant ounces (50 g) bottarga (tuna roe, available from a delicatessen), grated or crumbled
  • Minced parsley

Prepare the caponata following the procedure outlined above; gently combining the swordfish filets, asparagus tips and diced lobster tail with everything else and lay the caponata out in an elegant serving dish. Garnish it with the shrimp, bottarga and minced parsley, and serve, with a dry white wine.

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Categories: Antipasti and Starters, Eggplant, Sicilian Recipes, Ricette Siciliane

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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