Savoring Sicily: How to Master the Art of Caponata.
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Caponata, or capunata in Sicilian, is a signature dish of Sicilian cuisine. This vibrant medley consists of fried vegetables, predominantly eggplants, and is seasoned with tomato sauce, celery, onions, olives, capers, sugar, and vinegar. Numerous variations exist, with ingredients differing based on the specific version.
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Originally a main course accompanied by bread since the 18th century, Caponata has gained popularity throughout the Mediterranean and is now commonly served as a side dish or appetizer. The Palermo version of Caponata is the simplest rendition, featuring ingredients such as eggplants (either Violetta lunga Palermitana or Nera lunga), green or white olives, onions, celery, capers, tomato sauce, oil, salt, vinegar, and sugar. Some variations include the addition of basil, pine nuts, and grated toasted almonds.
The original recipe calls for eggplants to be cut into sizable pieces (about 4-5 cm per side) before frying, whole crushed Sicilian olives without pits (never pitted appetizer-style olives), visible celery pieces, Sicilian capers, and a pronounced sweet and sour flavor from the onions cut into small pieces.
The Agrigento version of Caponata boasts ingredients such as eggplants, arramascati peppers (similar to Roman friggitelli), tomatoes, white or red onions, celery, green olives, black olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, honey, chili peppers, summer melon, basil, pine nuts, raisins, pistachios, and almonds (which are abundant in the region).
- Eggplants 1 kg
- Celery 400 g White onions 250 g Ripe tomatoes 200 g Pitted green olives in brine 200 g Unsalted capers 50 g Pine nuts 50 g Sugar 60 g White wine vinegar 60 g Basil, to taste Tomato concentrate 40 g Extra virgin olive oil, to taste Fine salt, to taste
FOR FRYING THE EGGPLANTS
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
To create a mouthwatering caponata, begin by peeling and finely chopping the onion. Clean the celery and slice it into pieces. Halve the green olives and remove their pits. Rinse and pat dry the eggplants, trim off the ends, and cut them into 1-inch bite-sized cubes. Do the same with the tomatoes.
In a heated pan, toast the pine nuts for a few minutes until they turn golden brown. Then, cook the eggplant: add olive oil to a deep pan and heat it before frying the eggplant pieces in batches for two minutes each. Once golden, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggplant onto a tray lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Set aside for later use.
Next, pour a generous amount of olive oil into a large pan and heat it before adding the chopped onion. Sauté the onion until soft and translucent, and then incorporate the celery. Allow the celery to brown nicely before adding the capers, olives, toasted pine nuts, and tomatoes. Briefly sauté, then cover the pan with a lid and let it cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
While the caponata cooks, prepare the sweet and sour sauce: in a small saucepan, combine vinegar, tomato paste, and sugar. Mix thoroughly with a teaspoon. After the 15-20 minutes of cooking time have elapsed, season the caponata with salt and pour the sauce into the pan. Stir, increase the heat, and cook until the vinegar aroma dissipates.
Turn off the heat, add the fried eggplant pieces, and garnish with an abundance of fresh basil. Combine all the ingredients, transfer the caponata to a serving dish, and chill it in the refrigerator. Caponata’s distinctive characteristic is that it should be served either cold or at room temperature.
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Topics: Caponata, Sicilian cuisine, vegan appetizer, eggplant recipe, vegan Italian dishes, plant-based Sicilian food, traditional Caponata, homemade Caponata, healthy vegan appetizer
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