Without a doubt every Sicilian household has jars of ‘caponata’ in their pantry, or has access to it. As most Australian households probably have a jar of Vegemite (excluding mine….sorry!!).
Eggplant plays an essential role in the Sicilian diet. Sicilians, as with Italians in general take advantage of produce in season, then use them to make preserves to last throughout the year. This means you can enjoy various fruits and vegetables annually, even when they are not in season. Not to mention buying produce when it is attainable and affordable. Or better yet, a friend owns a vineyard, olive grove, vegetable garden or orchid. Get the drift!
Caponata is a eggplant based preserve, mixed with various vegetables, however most households will always include celery and capers. This particular recipe I have enjoyed for many years. It is normally served as a accompaniment to fish, notably swordfish. However it can equally be enjoyed as part of a antipasti plate, or simply topped on some crusty bread. Make a big batch and keep jars in the pantry enjoy and for many months, it is so tasty. Your house with be filled rich aromas!
A book by Gaetano Basile once quoted “not uncommonly, poets and writers have likened the eggplant to a beautiful woman, fleshy, firm and shiny black leather”.
The word for eggplant in Italian is melanzane (pronounced mel-arn,zar,knee).
What you need (will make about 4 x 500g jars):
three large eggplants
two celery stalks
350g Sicilian green olives
one red onion
1/4 cup of capers
1/2 cup white vinegar
one cup extra virgin olive oil
700ml Italian tomato pasata (tomato sauce puree)
1 tablespoon sugar
half a chili
1: Chop the eggplant into even size cubes. Place in a large saucepan and evenly coat with olive oil. Place on a low heat, and cook for about 15 minuets until the eggplant absorbs the oil and becomes soft and tender. Continue to keep stirring, always making sure they are evenly cooked. Cook with a lid on.
2: Finely dice the celery and boil in hot salted water until they become completely soft. This will take about 7-10 minuets.
3: Smash and finely chop the garlic. Finely dice the onion, add both to a large pan and cook over a low heat combined with a little olive oil and salt. Cook until they are soft and translucent, not brown.
4: If capers are marinated in vinegar, rinse thoroughly under water. Add to the onion mixture. Also roughly chopped olives.
5: When the eggplant is ready, remove and place on paper towel to remove excess oil. Now add to the pot with other ingredients, combine all ingredients.
6: Add the tomato puree, stir through and cook for about 5 minutes.
7: Heat the vinegar and sugar together to dissolve and add to the eggplant mixture. Cook for another 10 minuets. Taste mixture and add salt to taste if desired.
8: Pack mixture firmly in hot mixture in sterilized jars and close firmly with lid. Keep in a dark, cool place.