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Caponata

I first brought this Italian vegetable stew to the set as a late-afternoon snack, but it quickly became a lunchtime favorite. By the end of the shoot, Joshua was eating it for breakfast. This recipe is from Clara Colibri.

2 medium eggplant
4 stalks celery
1 medium onion
3 small or 2 medium plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, OR 1/2 can of chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 small jar of Spanish olives with pimento
3-5 Tbsp. capers, drained

Vegetable oil (a combination of canola and corn oil is best, like Wesson Best Blend)
About 2 tablespoons of good-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons or more of good-quality wine vinegar (not balsamic)
Salt (Kosher, if you have it)
Pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar

1. Wash eggplant and cut off stem end. With a vegetable peeler, peel off most of the skin, leaving a little on for color and flavor. Cut eggplant into bite-sized cubes, and set aside.*

2. Wash celery, remove tough strings, and slice. Parboil celery: In a small saucepan, bring an inch or two of water to a full boil. Add a dash of salt and the celery. Boil for 2-3 minutes, until the celery is just crisp-tender. Turn off heat and remove the celery with a slotted spoon (reserve the cooking water). Rinse under cold water, or plunge the celery into a bowl of ice water, to stop the cooking and keep the celery's bright green color. Set aside.

3. Chop onion, set aside.

4. Drain olives, chop coarsely, set aside.

5. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan, saute pan, or Dutch oven (large stove-top pot). Add eggplant cubes in a single layer. Fry to a deep rich brown on all sides. Remove with slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels.

6. When all the eggplant is done, pour off vegetable oil. Add a thin film of olive oil to the pan, and add onions. Cook over medium heat until onions are tender and opaque, about 5 minutes.

7. Return the eggplant to the pan. Add tomatoes, celery, olives, and capers; stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook briefly, about 2 minutes. If mixture seems dry, add the cooking water from the celery a tablespoonful at a time.

8. Turn off heat. Add vinegar to taste. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. sugar, stir.

9. Cover and let sit for 1 hour to blend flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature. You can also warm it gently and use it over pasta.

*Note: As long as the eggplant you're using is fresh, there is NO NEED to salt and drain it before cooking.

Tips:

  • It takes a good hour to make caponata, but it makes a lot and it keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Caponata is versatile stuff. The cast & crew stuffed into pita bread, but you can also serve it on crackers or toasted Italian or French bread, with aged provolone for lunch, even over pasta. It's outstanding as an appetizer with thin, homemade focaccia, but it works well with just about any bread or cracker that doesn't have sweeteners in it.
  • If you want to serve the caponata over pasta, heat it gently until just warm - don't re-cook it, or the eggplant will become tough and bitter. Add a little aged Romano cheese, if you want.
  • Quality of ingredients makes a big difference in this dish. Use fresh vegetables and the best olive oil and wine vinegar you can afford.
  • Clara Colibri says you can substitute boiled artichokes for the fried eggplant.