The first time we ever heard of Eggplant Caponata was when we had it at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon. It was like nothing we had ever tasted. Sauteed eggplant and onions flavored with cinnamon and cocoa powder, crunchy with pine nuts and richly colored with balsamic vinegar. A combination of complex flavors that work very well together. It almost reminds me of a chunkier, richer and more savory version of a chutney. I made this after arriving home from our Oregon trip, and actually blogged about it in 2009. It was somewhat hidden in the post as an appetizer for a main course and accompanied by an unrecognizable photo, so we’ll just pretend it never happened.
Wikipedia tell us: Caponata is a Sicilian aubergine (eggplant) dish consisting of a cooked vegetable salad made from chopped fried eggplant and celery seasoned with sweetened vinegar, with capers in a sweet and sour sauce.
Numerous local variations of the ingredients exist with some versions adding olives, carrots and green bell peppers, and others adding potatoes and raisins.
There is a Palermo version that adds octopus, while an aristocratic Sicilian recipe includes lobster and swordfish garnished with wild asparagus, grated dried tuna roe and shrimp. However, these last examples are exceptions to the general rule of a sweet and sour cooked vegetable stew or salad.
Today, caponata is typically used as a side dish for fish entrees and sometimes as an appetizer, but since the 1700s it has also been used as a main course.
When I returned home from Oregon, I naturally turned to Google to find a recipe and the first return was by Mario Batali. I mean, if you can’t trust Mario when you’re making a dish you’ve only had once, who can you trust?
I made this for only the 2nd time last night and served it with a seafood dinner, smeared on toasted baguette slices. In spite of the lengthy list of ingredients, this comes together pretty quickly. You might want to consider this recipe next time you’re entertaining. It’s quite an interesting dish.
- ½ cup virgin olive oil
- 1 large Spanish onion, chopped in ½-inch dice
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons currants
- 1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
- 2 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon
- ¼ cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
- ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 5 sprigs mint, chopped
- 1 baguette, sliced into ¾-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven
- In a large 12 to 14-inch saute pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until softened.
- Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve the caponata spooned on crostini or in middle of table with crostini on side to allow guests to help themselves.
Eggplant Caponata…It’s What’s for an Appetizer.