Sweet & sour aubergines

Sweet & sour aubergines

By
From
Sicily
Serves
8

This brightly coloured, almost jewel-like version of caponata was our favourite as we toured the island. This dish is all about achieving the correct balance between sweet and sour; care should be taken when adding the vinegar and sugar. Vincenzo Clemente, who owns the Cin Cin restaurant in Palermo, got the balance just right and taught us his version. At one point, he told us, caponata was covered with cocoa powder as a deterrent against flies. Too much and it is bitter but a little enriches the dish. He likes to serve this with octopus or swordfish but it is also good with bread, panelle, cheese or sliced meats.

Caponata di pesce, made with tuna or swordfish, was originally a dish for the wealthy but the Sicilian poor replaced the fish with aubergines (eggplants). Salting is not necessary with the modern deep-purple variety as they are no longer bitter. Traditionally the aubergines are fried but we prefer to roast them in the oven.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
2 large aubergines
sunflower oil, for deep-frying
or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for roasting
salt
ground white
or black pepper
1 onion, cut in half from root to tip and thinly sliced into half-moons
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 celery heart and leaves, roughly cut in 1 cm cubes
50g toned green olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons capers in salt, rinsed
200g tinned whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
3-4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
cocoa powder
toasted almonds
or pine nuts
a few mint leaves

Method

  1. Top and tail the aubergines, removing a few strips of the skin along the length of each one as Vincenzo thinks too much skin makes the caponata bitter and chewy. Cut them into 2 cm cubes. Either deep-fry them in the sunflower oil until crisp and light brown, then drain on kitchen paper. Or, if roasting, toss the aubergines in a bowl with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper, then spread them out on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for around 20 minutes or until crisp at the edges and golden brown.
  2. Sweat the onion and garlic in the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan with the celery, some salt and pepper and a little water over a low flame with the lid on. Check and stir frequently until the onion is soft – this will probably take 15–20 minutes.
  3. Add the olives, capers and tomatoes to the celery in the frying pan and stir through. Turn up the heat to bring the mixture to a boil and add the sugar and 3 tablespoons of the vinegar. Stir and let the vinegar evaporate for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance accordingly for sweet and sour, adding more vinegar if necessary. Remove the garlic.
  4. Pour the celery mixture over the fried aubergines and allow the dish to come to room temperature before serving. The flavour improves further if it is refrigerated overnight and reheated the next day. However, always allow the caponata to come to room temperature before serving, and add a scattering of cocoa powder, toasted nuts or mint leaves as you wish.
Tags:
Italy
Italian
Sicily
Sicilian
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