This dish originates in Sicily, the southern parts of Italy, but has now crossed all borders and is found on menus not only throughout Italy but also around the world. Due to the warm climate, fruits and vegetables in Sicily have intense tastes and colors, which gives a treat both to the taste buds and the sight. Sicilian cooking is the most colorful in Italy, like different paint on a painter’s palette. The dishes on a Sicilian table represent the various cuisines of the many civilizations that passed through the island contributing to the myriad tastes and flavors.
Another reason that I fell in love with this recipe is its versatility. This can be used as a relish, as a tasty side with grilled chicken or fish, as antipasto on bruschetta or on pasta or on anything your culinary imagination allows. Besides it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days too.
I am sending this to Meeta’s Authentic Italy: An Event, A Dish & A Prize.
Now to speak about the history and authenticity of the dish - I was at mercy of Google search and learnt quite a few things myself.
History & Origin: Of all the civilizations Sicily passed through, the peak moment for Sicilian cooking occurred, however, under the Arab domination. The Arabs brought in new produce such as peaches, apricots, melons, dates, rice, sugar cane, eggplants/aubergines, raisins, pistachios, oranges, and lemons, clove, cinnamon, and saffron. They also introduced the sweet and sour combinations of raisins and pine nuts with vegetables.
Then came the French and the Spanish who brought in cocoa, tomato, squash, peppers, and potato all of which quickly became part of “traditional” Sicilian cooking. From this period survives Caponata, the use of wild fennel, and sponge cakes.
This Sicilian dish probably originated in Spain: The name stems from the Catalan word caponada, which refers to a similar relish. The word appeared for the first time in 1709, but the root word, capón (a kind of fish; Eng: Cathead; Italian: Capone) indicates that originally this specialty was prepared with fish. The dish would then be sprinkled with freshly ground cocoa powder which used to be used as spice back then. Even now some versions are made with fish or cheese, but more popularly done with vegetables which are cooked separately and blended together. Eggplant is meaty enough to anchor any dish, so eggplant along with other fresh vegetables forms a perfect blend to create the Eggplant Caponata.
4 Chinese eggplants, cut in ¾ inch cubes
4 stalks of celery heart, chopped
1 Spanish sweet onion or yellow Onion, chopped
2 Plum tomato, diced
6 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (Optional)
2 tablespoons almonds (The Authentic recipe calls for Pine nuts, but I ran out of them)
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons golden Sultana raisins
2 teaspoons sugar or to taste
½ cup wine vinegar or Balsamic Vinegar
2 clove garlic, chopped
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish
1 Green Bell Pepper/Capsicum, chopped
5 tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle chopped eggplant lightly with salt (which will cause it to release moisture during cooking). and weigh it with something heavy and let it drain for an hour.
Heat a large pan over medium high heat and add 3 tablespoons of Olive Oil. Add the eggplant and fry while stirring frequently until cubes are golden brown and almost no more moisture left. Remove eggplants and set aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan, add the garlic and cook till they are blonde but not brown. Add crushed pepper, celery, onion, bell pepper, almonds, diced tomato and cook at high heat until mixture has thickened and dried up. Add olives, capers, sultana raisins, tomato puree, sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes or till the moisture reduces.
Add salt, black pepper and eggplant and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point you can adjust the sugar, vinegar and salt to taste. Cook for some more time till it is thick & almost dry.
Serve at room temperature or cold, garnished with chopped parsley leaves. If you are refrigerating the relish, bring it back to room temperature before serving.
Now the versatility part: Once I made this, I tried it out almost all the variations to serve.
Here it is on a Sea Salt sprinkled dry cracker.
And also on Orzo.
There were some leftovers and this tasted even better the next day, with all the flavors blending in just right.
Note: These are the few places from where I collected all the above Information: