June 28, 2013

Recipe: Caponata (Sicilian Stewed Eggplant)

Caponata is a Sicilian dish of chopped eggplant and various vegetable pals stewed in a sweet-and-sour sauce accented by briny bites of capers, earthy oregano, and spicy red pepper flakes. The result is a slightly saucy, hearty, tangy mix of tender vegetable goodness that has practically endless possibilities. Think of Caponata as Ratatouille's sassy, versatile culinary cousin. Some of my favorite uses include:

Bruschetta: Grill or toast slices of crusty bread, rub with garlic, and top with Caponata and a drizzle of olive oil (shown in photo above).

Sandwich Filling: I like to use Caponata almost sloppy-joe-style, stuffed into a warm crusty roll along with a spoonful (or two, or three...) of vegan bechamel  for a messily delicious and decadent sandwich.

Sauce or Relish: You can use Caponata as a hearty, textured sauce for short pasta (such as penne or orrechiete) or spoon it over any number of protein entrees (we're talking tempeh, tofu, veggie burgers or sausages).

Stew: Caponata is hearty enough to serve as your main course. I love topping a bowl of Creamy Polenta with a heaping portion of the stew.

You may have noticed that I've posted several Sicilian-inspired recipes lately - a Roasted Cauliflower Salad and Tempeh-Stuffed Peppers - and that is because I've fallen hard for Sicilian cuisine. I am like a lovesick puppy for its boldly-flavored, simply-prepared, vegetable-centric fare.

makes 5 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large eggplant, diced into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 lb eggplant, no need to peel it)
salt to taste
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced (about 3/4 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes (including juices)
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed well and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet (or dutch oven) over medium high heat (oil should shimmer but not smoke). Add eggplant, season with a healthy pinch of salt, and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and lightly golden. Transfer eggplant to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and celery to the skillet, and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste, stirring to coat mixture evenly with the paste. At this point you should be developing beautiful "brown bits" on the bottom of your skillet, so deglaze the skillet with the red wine vinegar, scraping the bits up. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, followed by the reserved eggplant, capers, sugar, oregano, and red pepper flakes.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until caponata has thickened and the vegetables are tender but not completely soft. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Remove from heat, transfer to a storage container, and cool completely before refrigerating for 6 hours to overnight. You can skip the refrigeration step, but like any stew, the flavors will be better developed the day after you make it. Serve room-temperature as bruschetta or relish; serve warmed as sandwich filling,  pasta sauce, or stew. This makes a large batch, but you can keep the caponata refrigerated for 5 days and use throughout the week in various meals (see suggestions above).

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