I was going to wait a few more days before I posted again (I don’t want to set too high of a standard for myself for frequency of writing, after all!), but I’m afraid I can’t stop myself because I’m completely overexcited by the dish I made last night. True to form, I had an unplanned assortment of ingredients to use, but the fact I had an eggplant inspired me to try to make dish a friend of mine had once served me, called a caponata. Caponata is a Southern Italian stew or spread that has a delicious and uniquely zesty combination of flavors that would be a good spread on crusty bread – potentially with salami (works with salty-sweet) or chicken (works with almost anything!) or over pasta, even rice. I looked at some recipes, and (not surprisingly) didn’t have all the ingredients, plus I had some extras I wanted to use up. So, I experimented. The flavors you want in a caponata are sweet, sour, and salty on top of the tender, almost creaminess, of cooked eggplant. Kind of like a Sicilian version of Chinese sweet and sour chicken…except completely different.
Here’s what I had: 1 onion, garlic, 1 eggplant, 1 zucchini, 1 patty-pan squash (a summer squash that looks a lot like a ufo), 2 large tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, olives, capers, raisins, a little sugar, and butter (normally I would have used olive oil here, but I was out).
Chop a couple cloves of garlic and slice the onion into half-inch pieces. Add 1-2 tsp. butter or oil to a frying pan at medium heat, toss in the onion and garlic, and let them cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they get brown on the outside. Then sprinkle them with about a tsp. of sugar, stir again, turn the heat down low and let them sit for a few more minutes to brown more. This gives them a wonderful sweet-savory caramelized flavor. Next, add a heaping spoonful of capers, a handful of olives, a handful of raisins, and about 3 Tbs. (a splash more if you like things sour and a bit less if you don’t) of vinegar. Chop the tomatoes, and stir these in as well. Let this simmer while you prepare the rest of the dish. Chop the eggplant and any other squash you want to include into half-inch pieces – a lot of recipes that use eggplant make you salt and drain the eggplant ahead of time, but I usually skip this step because I’m lazy and I find that if I cook the eggplant thoroughly with a good dose of salt it turns out fine (by a good dose I mean a sprinkling over the top of each piece. Do beware adding too much, I once made eggplant so salty that even after I added it to a whole pot of unsalted ratatouille it was barely edible!). Heat about a tablespoon of butter or oil to medium in a large frying-pan, and cook the eggplant and squash in batches that don’t overcrowd the pan – make sure each piece can touch the pan bottom so they get brown on one side, then flip to brown the other. Lightly salt and pepper the vegetables as you cook them. I’d estimate that each batch takes around 8 minutes. Once the veggies are cooked so they are soft, almost mushy when you stick them with a fork, combine them together, add the onion-tomato mixture, let it cook for a couple more minutes together, and then you’re ready to serve.
Since I had some ground beef to use up, I served my caponata with little meatballs (I’ll share that recipe some other time, hopefully) à la spaghetti with meatballs. This recipe leaves a lot of room for switching up ingredients. For example, I think that canned tomatoes would have worked instead of fresh; balsamic, wine vinegar, or lemon juice in a pinch would work to add the tanginess; chopped dried figs, prunes, or currants could work for the sweet flavor of the raisins; any variety of summer squash could go in, and a bell pepper would have been tasty; and as far as the olives and capers go, the recipe would probably work with just one or the other, but the briny, salty flavor really makes the dish (if you’re brave you could throw in some anchovies).
I was a little apprehensive of how the caponata would go over when I sat down to eat with my boyfriend. No need to worry! Both of us were mind-blown by how delicious is was. Complement it with a fruity red wine and enjoy!