I’m not really big on rules. Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m not really big on rules when it comes to cooking. There are some rules that I follow steadfastly, like stopping at red lights, not BBQing on smog days, and putting the toilet seat up when I’m done (ha! pshaw!). But when it comes to cooking, breaking the rules usually turns out well.
Take caponata for instance. A traditional caponata is a sort of condiment or salad that contains eggplant, onion, tomato, olives, capers, pine nuts, and a few other things. But I didn’t have all those ingredients at home, so I made caponata with what I did have at home. I used a similar cooking method and just substituted some other things that I wanted to use up. And it was delicious! And who cares that it’s not traditional!
We ate our “caponata” with potatoes that I chunked up, tossed in oil and salt, and roasted til crispy. Then we topped it with Ventresca tuna (tuna belly). But you could also eat it along side a steak or on crackers, or stirred into pasta…
- olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1/4 cup diced celery
- a pinch of chili flake
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup diced bell pepper
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed, mortared
- 2 cups diced tomatoes
- 4 cups diced eggplant, about 1/2″ cubes
- 1-1/2 Tablespoons packed mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 2-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- salt to taste
In a large saute pan over medium-low heat, warm about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, celery, chili flake, and a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until they are partially translucent. Add the garlic, bell pepper, coriander, and another pinch of salt, and continue cooking until the pepper softens.
Scoot the veggies over to one side of the pan, add a little more olive oil to the empty side, and pour in the tomatoes and another pinch of salt. Now move the pan on the stove so that the flame is directly under the tomatoes and the other veggies are somewhat off the heat. Turn the heat up to medium-high and allow the tomatoes to begin to soften before stirring them into the other vegetables. Pour the whole vegetable mixture onto a plate, scraping the pan well with a rubber spatula, and set aside.
Pour another 2 Tablespoons olive oil into the saute pan and place it over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant, and a sprinkling of salt. Toss. Then allow the eggplant to sit, without stirring for a minute or two, until it begins to color. (Note that eggplant soaks up a lot of oil, but once it softens it releases some of that oil). Give the eggplant a stir and again, allow it to sit without stirring for a minute or two. Add a little more oil, judiciously, if it needs it.
When the eggplant has softened and is lightly golden, pour the vegetable mixture back into the saute pan and add the vinegar and mint. Turn the heat to low. Give it a good stir and cook slowly, with a lid, for 20-30 minutes, until all the veggies are completely tender. (You may need to add up to a 1/2 cup of water to keep the veggies from sticking).
Taste for salt and vinegar. It shouldn’t taste sour, but the vinegar should counteract the richness. Serve hot or at room temperature. Yum!