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Sicilian Eggplant Relish Caponata

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Mark T. Shapiro

A tradition in Sicily where eggplant is ubiquitous, caponata is an incredibly versatile vegetable dish and perhaps the finest example of Italian antipasti. There are endless contemporary variations of this dish, but in Sicily two ingredients remain constant — eggplant and celery. Serve at room temperature with good bread and cheese or alongside grilled sausages, fish or chicken or even tossed with pasta. Here I have chosen to toss the eggplant chunks with a little olive oil and oven-roast them instead of frying. This method is more convenient and more in keeping with contemporary tastes, since the eggplant absorbs less oil. In fact, you can roast all of the fresh vegetables to create a thoroughly contemporary caponata. If you choose to sauté the eggplant, make sure your olive oil is hot enough to sear it —otherwise it will absorb too much oil. I have had success with this recipe using all three varieties of eggplant — conventional, globe, as well as the slender purple Asian type. Toast the pine nuts in a pan on top of the stove or in a preheated oven, but keep your eye on them, as they will brown very quickly.

Serves6 to 8

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseantipasto/mezze, side dish, vegetable

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, low carb, low cholesterol, peanut free, soy free, vegan, vegetarian

Taste and Textureherby, nutty, salty, savory, sweet, tangy, tart

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs (1.5 kg) eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) salt
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed, cut diagonally into ½-inch (1 cm) pieces, blanched
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups (500 mL) passata (puréed, sieved tomatoes) or canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup (125 mL) large green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup (125 mL) black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) capers (preferably salt-packed, rinsed)
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) currants, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, drained and patted dry
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup (125 mL) roughly chopped mint
  • ½ cup (125 mL) roughly chopped basil
  • Large baking sheet

Instructions

  1. Put cubed eggplant in a colander set in the sink. Toss with the salt. Set a plate on top of eggplant and add a weight. Let stand 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Rinse eggplant under cold running water; drain and pat dry with paper towel. Toss eggplant with 3 tbsp (45 mL) of the olive oil; spread onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until softened and starting to brown. Set aside.

  2. In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add celery, garlic and onions; cook for 6 minutes or until onions are softened. Do not let garlic brown. Sir in passata, green and black olives, capers, pine nuts, currants, sugar and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

  3. Stir in mint; cook 5 minutes longer. Transfer to large serving dish. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours to develop flavors. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with chopped basil.

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