I am very pleased that one of my recipes (Caponata, Perfect for Christmas) has been published in the latest issue of Italianicious (Volume 5 issue 4, Dec 2009 -Feb 2010). This magazine is published in Sydney and has an Italian/Australian specific content with many recipes, articles and information about food, restaurants, wine and travel.
That particular recipe of caponata published in Italianicious is from my mother’s family originally from Catania (a city on east coast of Sicily) and it is interesting that my father’s family, who are from Ragusa (two hours drive from Catania), do not cook caponata at all. The photo is of Via Bellini in Catania.
Caponata personifies Sicilian cuisine and as you’d expect, there are many regional variations of this recipe. Some of you may be surprised that this version of caponata contains peppers as well as eggplants. The most common recipes for caponata only use eggplants as the principal ingredient, but the inclusion of peppers is an authentic, local variation in many parts of Sicily especially from Catania. On my trips to Sicily I always sample as much caponata as possible and was very pleased to find that the best tasting versions of caponata all contained peppers – this I found in restaurants in Syracuse, Catania, Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Agrigento, Ragusa Ibla and Caltagirone.
There are other Sicilian caponate (plural of caponata) made with other vegetables, for example, caponata di carciofi (artichokes) caponata di verdura verde (green leafy vegetables) and caponata di patate (see recipe below). The principal and most common flavourings that characterise a Sicilian caponata remain the same: the celery, capers, green olives and the sweet and sour caramelised sauce made with vinegar and sugar (agro dolce).
Other traditional caponate recipes made with eggplants or eggplants and peppers use tomato paste rather than chopped tomatoes, some add garlic, others chocolate (or cocoa). Many recipes contain nuts – almonds or pine nuts or pistachio, used fresh in some recipes, in others they are toasted. Frequently herbs are added – sometimes basil, at other times oregano or mint. Certain recipes also include raisins or currants and some, fresh pears. Several include fish, singly or in combination of canned tuna, prawns, octopus, salted anchovies and bottarga.
To make caponata I always sauté (on high heat) my vegetables separately and then combine them at the end in the agro dolce (sweet and sour) sauce.
CAPONATA DI PATATE
This caponata can be eaten hot or at room temperature. It also keeps well refrigerated for several days.
The potatoes in this caponata are fried until lightly golden. The ingredients commonly used to make caponata – onions, celery, olives, capers, tomatoes and the vinegar and sugar for the agro dolce – are cooked together separately. The potatoes are then added to the other cooked component.
potatoes, 1.5 kg
celery, 1 heart (the centre pale green stalks and some of the fine leaves)
onion, 2, large, chopped
capers, ½ cup, salted or in brine
green olives, ¾ cup , stoned, chopped
white vinegar, ¾ glass
sugar, 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup (or more)
salt and freshly ground pepper
parsley, 1 cup, cut finely
tomato passata, 1 cup
Peel and cube the potatoes and place onto a clean tea towel (or paper) to dry.
Fry the potatoes in hot extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt – do not crowd the potatoes and if needed use a wide frypan or cook in batches.
Turn occasionally until they are cooked and golden. Drain the potatoes and set aside. You can use this same oil to braise the vegetables (purists would use new oil).
Heat the oil and add the onions and the celery. Stir frequently and cook over a moderate heat until the onion is golden and the celery has softened. Add seasoning and parsley.
Add the tomatoes, capers and olives and toss the ingredients together for about 5 minutes.
Add sugar and vinegar and increase the heat to high to evaporate some of the vinegar.
Add the potatoes, cook for about 4-5 minutes to blend the flavours.
Serve at room temperature.
Add either chopped, toasted almonds or pistachio before serving (either on top or through the caponata) and scatter with fresh mint leaves.