What a perfect dish for a summer buffet supper or lunch. You can make it well in advance and I prefer it at room temperature rather than warm. It’s a Sicilian dish and reflects the nearness of Sicily to the North African coast as it’s a classic combination of sweet, sour and salty, using the versatile aubergine as the base. There’s no such thing as an ‘authentic’ caponata. An Italian friend explains to me that it’s one of those dishes where every Italian household will claim to have the best recipe. It’s a wonderful fridge dish which will happily accommodate vegetables that need using up, such as courgettes, celery, mushrooms or fennel. If you like this idea then fry off the chunked vegetables first. I prefer to keep it simple. My recipe involves a happy trio of aubergine, red onion and tomato.
Aubergine can be tricky. If you don’t fry or roast it in advance it can stay stubbornly tough and you never get that creamy interior contrasting with the violet skin. I don’t have a deep fat fryer and don’t like deep fat frying, often recommended for this recipe. Instead I spread the aubergine chunks on a roasting tin, sprinkle them with oil and put them in a hot oven for 20 minutes until they begin to colour and soften. If you do it this way you don’t need to salt the aubergine. Increasingly this is unnecessary anyway as the variety we get in the UK has had the bitterness bred out of it.
Caponata works wonderfully well with antipasto, smoked salmon, patés, quiches, or anything else that you might want to serve as part of a casual supper or lunch.
Serves 4-6 as part of a buffet lunch of supper
1 large aubergine
1 large red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon mild chili powder
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons sultanas
1 teaspoon dried mint
400g tin tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
200 ml any kind of wine vinegar
Heat the oven to 200 c. Trim the aubergine; slice it vertically and then into 3cm chunks. Spread them in a single layer on a roasting tin, sprinkle oil over them and let them roast for 20 minutes or until they have softened and are just beginning to colour.
Meantime, heat some oil in the pan you will use to accommodate the whole dish and fry the onion until it has softened and is beginning to caramelise. Add the crushed garlic plus the mild chili powder and let it fry for another 2 minutes.
Add the roasted aubergine, the capers, sultanas, dried mint, the whole tin of tomatoes, purée, sugar, salt and vinegar. Bring it to the boil, clap on a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat to the barest simmer and leave it for an hour. It will benefit from even longer cooking if you have the time.
Check that the aubergines have collapsed nicely. If you have too much liquid boil it off. If it is too stiff, add some water. Decant the caponata into a serving dish and let it cool.
Serve at room temperature.