By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Caponata is probably the most typical Sicilian appetizer. It is an iconic dish that truly represents Sicily in Italian cuisine.
Like many other Sicilian recipes with nuts and this delicious sweet-and-sour taste, Caponata is strongly influenced by Arabic cuisine because Arabs, the “saraceni” as the Sicilians called them, dominated the island over the centuries.
The first written sources about this vegetarian dish date back to 1709. The Etimologicum Siculum describes Caponata as “Acetarium et variis rebus minutium conficis” ("Salad and a variety of minced things"). The term "caponata" may refer to the way of cooking the Capone fish—Sicilian slang for the dolphinfish mahi mahi. When there was no fish or the money to buy it, the inexpensive fried eggplant was used. Thus was born the caponata.
Caponata gives its best flavor at room temperature sprinkled with plenty of chopped basil.
If properly sealed, you can keep it in the fridge for two or three days: the taste and aroma will remain intact!
2 lbs (1 kg) dark eggplants 1 lb (500 g) celery stalks 2 well-ripened tomatoes 4 oz (100 g) pitted green olives in brine 2 0z (50 g) salted capers (rinse in water to remove salty taste)
1 tablespoon of pine nuts 1 cup of white wine vinegar
1 carrot 1 tablespoon of sugar 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Basil to taste Salt to taste Black pepper to taste Extra virgin olive oil for frying
Wash the eggplants, remove the stalks, and dice without removing the skin. Place in a colander and sprinkle with plenty of salt and let the water drain along with the bitterness of the vegetable.
Wash the celery stalks and remove any strings. Cut into 1/4" slices. Gently fry the celery in olive oil to soften.
Wash the salt off the eggplant and pat them with a towel to dry. Deep fry in olive oil until golden. Set aside on a paper towel to absorb the oil.
Dice the onion and carrot. Sauté in an oily pan along with diced tomatoes.
Add pine nuts, capers, green olives, and basil.
Add salt and pepper to taste and let simmer.
Add the fried eggplants and celery when onions are soft.
Give it all a stir before you add the vinegar and sugar.
Let the vinegar mixture evaporate.
Cool and serve.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).