Sunday, August 10, 2008
Back when I lived in Brooklyn there was a restaurant we would frequently go to called Joe's of Avenue U. It's very casual Sicilian fare that was inexpensive and delicious. This is where I tried Caponata (sometimes called Caponatina) for the first time and fell in love with it. The best way for me to explain what Caponata is, is by calling it an eggplant stew. It is prepared in the same manner that one would use to make beef stew. The veggies are sauteed in oil and liquid is added to simmer them in. However, this does not take hours to make like a meat stew would, so that makes it even better for me.
The recipe I used belongs to Steve's grandmother Rose. I have never met her but I'm sure she would be happy to know that someone is making her caponata. There are many variations of this dish, some include zucchini or peppers but this one is very simple. I think the next time I make it I will add pine nuts (pignoli) and raisins. I am almost positive that those two ingredients were in the first caponata I have ever had at Joe's. Since then there have been new owners and they do not use the nuts or raisins and it's still good but I love the sweetness that the raisins give the dish. A lot of Sicilian recipes use sweet and sour ingredients together.
Grandma Rose's Caponata
2 lb unpeeled eggplant, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
3 ½ oz. tomato paste
1 cup water
1 lb green olives, salted and pitted
2 oz jar of capers, unsalted and drained
salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tsp. sugar
¼ cup wine vinegar
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and celery, cook until almost tender. Remove ions and celery and place in a bowl. In same skillet, sauté eggplant until light brown. Remove. In same pan, over med flame, cook tomato paste and water, stir until dissolved. Add olives, eggplant, capers, onion, celery, salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil over high flame. Lower flame and simmer for 5 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar. Stir and cook for ½ minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes 2 quarts. Sterilize jars before using. Cover tightly.
Keeps in refrigerator for 6 weeks.
There are only a few very minor changes that I made to this recipe.
~ I used canola oil instead of olive oil because the eggplant absorbs the olive oil too quickly. Then have to keep adding oil and you end up with oily eggplant. Just use whatever oil you would normally use for frying.
~ I added a little more sugar and vinegar than the recipe called for. I'm sure Steve's grandmother, like Nanny, didn't use standard measuring cups so the measurements that we have are just a guess. Nanny's measuring cup was a mug. So it's very difficult to get exact measurements but all you need to do is taste and adjust. Not a problem.
~ I also cooked the eggplant at the end for a little longer because either I cut the eggplant too big or the time given was just an estimation. Again, just taste it and you can tell if the eggplant is cooked all the way through.
This dish is best served cold or room temperature with a couple of pieces of good Italian bread for dipping.