The Noble Bay: Caponata

A recipe for this traditional Italian dish.

| April/May 1994

Makes 4 to 6 servings

The classic Sicilian antipasto or appetizer is often served with fish. Try it hot as a topping for crusty bread or chilled with salad greens.

  • 2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (small Italian or Oriental varieties do not require peeling)
  • 1/4–1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced
  • 2 cups sliced celery
  • 2 cups chopped ripe paste tomatoes such as Roma
  • 3–4 bay leaves (break dried leaves in 2 or 3 pieces; finely chop fresh leaves after removing petiole and midrib)
  • 2–3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons small capers or chopped large ones
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata or other brine-cured olives, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly at the last minute
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
  • Chopped fresh parsley to garnish

1.Place the eggplant cubes in a colander and sprinkle them generously with salt. Let stand at least 1/2 hour; rinse well under cold water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.

2.Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Gradually add the eggplant, stirring constantly. Add more oil as needed to keep the eggplant from sticking.

3.As soon as all the eggplant is in the pan, gradually add the garlic, onion, and celery. Cook until hot through but not browned, keeping the heat as high as possible. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves, vinegar, capers, and olives. Mix well and lower the heat to simmer. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender and the flavor is well developed.

4.Season the caponata with salt, pepper, and additional vinegar as needed. Add basil leaves, nuts, and parsley. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Variation: Add chopped anchovies, chunks of fish or shellfish, ham, Italian sausage, or other cooked meat to the vegetables in the last few minutes of cooking time.

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