You just gotta love summer! Fabulous, really fresh, in season vegetables makes this so very special. It makes quite a lot, but it keeps very well, for up to 1 week. I won’t deny that it’s a bit time consuming but I think the end result is well worth it and you can cut up everything but the eggplant the day before. A terrific thing to add to an antipasti platter or just served with great bread! We gave a jar of caponata to chef friends and they served it with grilled lamb! When I make it everyone loves it! And who doesn’t like praise?
Makes About 1 Quart
2 lbs. eggplant
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
EVOO oil for frying the eggplant
11 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 28 oz. tin Italian tomatoes, finely chopped, juice reserved
5 celery ribs, cut into ½” pieces
1 large onion
1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into ½” pieces, or half of each colour
1 cup (6 oz.) green olives (Sicilian or Greek olives) in brine, pitted, cut into ¼” pieces or so
¼ cup salted capers, rinsed well
1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Opt. but fabulous add 1/3 cup each golden raisins and either toasted pine-nuts or slivered almonds after the caponata is cooked but still hot.
Cut eggplant into 1/2 “cubes and transfer to a colander. Toss with 2 Tbsp. sea salt; let drain 1 hour.
While eggplant drains, heat 2 Tbsp. EVOO in a 4 – 5 qt. heavy pot until hot, but not smoking, then sauté ¾ of the garlic, stirring, until golden, but not browned, up to 1 minute. Add tomato paste, cook stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their juice; reduce heat, simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 20 – 25 minutes. Set aside.
Tip: You can make this the day before and chill until ready to proceed with making the caponata.
Bring 3 cups water to a boil; add 1 tsp. salt. Cook celery until tender, 5 – 7 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.
Gently squeeze eggplant to remove excess moisture, pat dry. Heat ¼” EVOO (about 2 cups) in a 12” heavy frying pan over moderately high heat to 360 F, then fry eggplant in 4 batches, stirring and turning constantly with a slotted spoon until browned and tender, 3 – 5 minutes. per batch. Bring oil back to 360 F between each batch.. Transfer eggplant to a paper towel lined baking pan.
Tip: I like to use my trusty electric frying pan for this because of it’s built in thermometer.
Pour off all but 2 Tbsp. of the oil from the frying pan. Turn the heat down to moderate and return the pan to the burner, or continue using the electric frying pan. Cook onion, bell pepper and remaining garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. It’s always a good idea to add the garlic half way through this process so that it won’t burn. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice, eggplant, celery, olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, pepper and remaining 1 tsp. salt & simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
Cool to room temperature, uncovered, then chill, covered for at least 8 hours.
Just before serving stir in the parsley and basil. Serve at room temperature. Yum, yum!