Sicilian caponata is an Italian eggplant stew or relish that can be used in a variety of ways. It does make a great vegetarian main dish, but it’s mostly used a side dish, especially for fish. I like to spread it on some good, crusty bread. Caponata has that Sicilian affinity for agrodolce – sweet and sour. It is made with vinegar and sugar. It is a flavor explosion but can be made to suit your own particular tastes. You can adjust the vinegar to your liking and the sugar to your taste. Some recipes use red wine vinegar and some use white wine vinegar. Either one is fine. You can serve Sicilian caponata hot (which I like) but it is traditionally served at room temperature; it lasts for several days in the fridge after you make it. The traditional way to make it is to cube the eggplant and fry it. I like roasting eggplant instead, because it soaks up so much oil and roasting it is a lot easier. Salting the eggplant beforehand is important because it helps to collapse the air holes that are in the eggplant, making it like a sponge. That is why it soaks up so much oil. Sicilian caponata has capers, olives and celery added to round out the flavors.
2 pounds of eggplant, cubed (about 3 medium eggplant)
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup green Italian olives, sliced
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons capers packed in salt, rinsed
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh basil
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered for garnish
Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and toss well with the salt. Let the eggplant sit for about an hour. Do not rinse the eggplant. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet (I line mine with foil for easy cleanup). Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and roast for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large frypan, saute the chopped onions in 1/4 cup of olive oil, gently, for about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add the olives, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar and gently simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant and stir until blended. Add pepper to taste. To serve, add chopped fresh basil and serve with hard boiled eggs and some crusty bread. Or use as a side dish for fish or chicken. You can serve this hot or at room temperature. Sicilian caponata lasts several days in the fridge.