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Cuisines come together in caponata

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Lately I’ve been on an eggplant kick. I bought a lot on my last visit to the market, and the two remaining eggplants in my vegetable bin were screaming to be cooked.

Aside from being too hot to put on the oven, eggplant Parmesan seemed like a dish more appropriate for the mid-winter than mid-summer. In addition to the eggplants, I had a large bunch of celery and a lot of tomatoes from my garden. Caponata seemed to be the answer.

Caponata is a Sicilian appetizer that could be a cousin of ratatouille. The origin of the name is hazy. One version says that it came about because caponata was traditionally paired with a fish called “capone” in an old Sicilian dialect. Another theory is that it came from the Greek word “capto,” meaning to cut.

Sicilian food reflects the cuisines of the island’s invaders. The flavors of caponata bear this out. The agrodolce (sweet-sour) sauce is a contribution from the Romans. The vinegar, sugar and olive oil combination gives caponata a sweet, tangy flavor.

The Moors, who came from North Africa, introduced the addition of dried fruits and nuts in savory dishes. Tomatoes were a gift from the Spaniards, who brought them back from the Americas.

Caponata takes a bit of time to prepare, but the finished dish is well worth the effort. It is served chilled or at room temperature. It makes an excellent accompaniment to grilled meat or fish and is great topper for a light bruchetta. Like most dishes with a medley of ingredients, it tastes even better the next day.

Caponata takes a bit of effort, but the end result is worth it.

Caponata

2 medium eggplants, cut into ½-inch cubes

Salt

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

3 ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons. sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons golden raisins

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

12 pitted green olives, coarsely chopped

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped basil and parsley for garnish

Put the eggplant into a colander set over a large bowl; toss with 2 teaspoons salt. Top with a plate weighted down with several large cans; let drain for 1 hour.

Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the eggplant and cook until golden brown, 7–8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to a bowl. Repeat with more oil and the remaining eggplant.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil and onions; cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and celery and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, 5–6 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato paste and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cooked eggplant, raisins, pine nuts, capers, olives, roasted peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through. Transfer to a plate; let cool slightly. Top with basil and parsley.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.