Caponata is a wonderful dish made primarily with eggplant and other vegetables, with various vinegars and sugar to produce an “agrodolce” or a “sweet and sour” taste.
Caponata is mostly identified as a Sicilian dish though beyond that it’s origins are unknown. If you search for a “classic” caponata recipe you’ll find many and they’re all different, often very much so. You’ll find recipes that grill the all the vegetables then mix them together with other ingredients; you’ll find recipes that stew everything together. You will also find recipes that use tomatoes and others that don’t. Some recipes use only red wine vinegar or only balsamic vinegar; some recipes use both. Many versions include raisins, pignioli nuts, olives and capers. Other versions peel the eggplant while others don’t. However it’s made, caponata can be served as an appetizer, as a side or even as a main dish; and it can be served cold, room temperature or even warm. So what it really comes down to is that everyone who makes and serves caponata has his or her own way of doing so. In other words it’s an incredibly versatile dish, in every way.
I’ve been making caponata for years and my version evolved from several recipes I have found, from sampling many variations made by others and by experimenting with and refining my own preferred ingredients and method for preparation. This has led to a version that suits my tastes and that of my family, and to what I believe conforms to and can reasonably be called Caponata. At least as much as any other “classic” version can be. My method involves stewing the vegetables in red wine vinegar and at the end of the cooking cycle adding chopped olives, capers and balsamic vinegar. This results in a sweet and “tangy“ preparation. Also keep in mind that caponata is best made at least a day before you intend to serve it to allow all the flavors to blend and mellow.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy caponata is served cold as a side to grilled polenta and Italian sausage. This is a great dish for busy people or for when you know you won’t have the time to prepare dinner. As I mentioned above, the caponata is best made at least a day before serving, and it will remain fresh in a tightly sealed container for several days. The polenta is also ideally made the day before to allow it to become firm before grilling. So, to serve this great dish you merely need to grill your favorite sausage and the polenta and serve with cold caponata. Simple, fast, delicious, try it!
- 1 large eggplant, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped into ½ inch dice
- 1 red pepper, chopped into ½ inch dice
- 1 green pepper, chopped into ½ inch dice
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes, or more to taste
- 1 14.5 oz can regular or petite-diced tomatoes with juice
- 2 stalks celery, white lobes and leaves removed, chopped
- 4 -6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 can black or green olives, or use some of both, coarsely chopped
- 2 oz non-pereil capers, or more to taste
- 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
- In a deep saucepot, add the olive oil and peppers and celery and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes.
- Add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté for 3 more minutes.
- Add the eggplant and red wine vinegar and stir all the vegetables together, cover and let cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant begins to soften. You’ll see this when all the eggplant has changed color.
- Add the diced tomatoes with juice, crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sugar and salt and mix everything together. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce the heat to simmer. Be sure to stir frequently and as the caponata stews, taste to adjust seasoning.
- Continue to simmer and stir for about an hour until the eggplant is cooked through and most the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and add the chopped olives, capers and balsamic vinegar to taste and mix well.
- Allow the caponata to cool to room temperature then store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container until ready to serve. Note that this freezes well.
- 1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
- 5 cups of water
- ¾ cup (6oz) Provolone, Swiss or other sharp melting cheese
- ½ cup (4oz) Parmigiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
- 3 tbsp. salted butter
- Additional salt to taste if desired
- 3 or 4 tbsp. olive oil for grilling
- In a heavy stainless steel 3-quart saucepan add 4 cups cold water and turn on heat to high
- Gradually add the cornmeal to the cold water while continually whisking until all the cornmeal is incorporated. Add salt to taste. Bring the polenta to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Frequently whisk to make sure the polenta doesn’t stick to the sauce pan and burn
- Continue cooking and whisking, scraping the inside of the saucepan with a rubber spatula to incorporate any cornmeal that does stick. While cooking, the polenta will bubble and spit.
- Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the polenta is done. If while cooking the polenta gets too thick and starts to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add a little warm water. The polenta is done when it’s very creamy and passes the plate test (see previous post). Keep in mind that it may take longer depending on the grind of the cornmeal.
- When done, add the butter, Provolone and Parmigiano cheese, whisk until the butter and cheese are well incorporated and remove from the heat.
- Pour the polenta into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish or cookie sheet. I like to use a cooking spray for this. Then evenly spread the polenta to about ¾ inch thickness and allow it to cool to room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Note that you can prepare the polenta to this point up to two days in advance.
- To grill, add the olive oil into a heavy nonstick frying pan and heat until the oil is hot
- Using a sharp knife cut the cold polenta in half lengthwise then 4 equal slices widthwise.
- Using one or two slices per serving, heat the polenta in the microwave oven for 45 seconds. Gently add the heated polenta slices to the frying pan and grill until golden brown. The flip the polenta and brown the other side.
- Remove from the pan. You can serve the polenta immediately or keep warm in the oven until ready to serve