Caponata, an Italian dish with eggplant, onions, celery, tomatoes, and olives, is one of my "go to" appetizers. Whether I'm having a big party, need to bring a substantial contribution to a potluck, or just have a compulsion to "feed" my freezer, caponata fits the bill. I got the original recipe from my friend Liz. Although I have adapted the directions and certain ingredients, I think of her whenever I make it, which is often.
Don’t be fooled when you read the ingredients – it isn’t ratatouille or tomato sauce. Instead, caponata is a slightly sweet-and-sour, tangy mélange of vegetables that can be served with crackers or thin slices of Italian or French-style bread (baguette), as a condiment for fish or chicken, or even dabbed on pasta.
Admittedly this recipe requires patience. But for an investment of an hour of chopping and an hour of cooking (some of which is basically unattended), you'll be rewarded with a heaping bowl of intense homemade goodness. Other reasons to love caponata:
- It freezes well, so you can have it at-the-ready for that impromptu dinner party you’ve been “planning” forever, no matter when you finally make it happen.
- Store-bought caponata is nowhere near as good and it costs a bundle. Depending on the brand and location, I’ve find the commercially prepared versions for $3-4 for 7 ounces, which translates to $18-24 for the amount this recipe makes, compared to $6-7 for the homemade version.
If you aren’t a big fan of eggplant, don’t impose that memory of baked or fried eggplant dishes on caponata. Here the eggplant is salted, rinsed, and dried into tiny, soft pieces that don’t overwhelm the dish in quantity, taste, or size. Another surprise (at least to me) is the starring role that slow-cooked celery has in this dish. The keys to this dish are the chopping (into small reasonably uniform pieces) and slow cooking stages; everything else is just commentary.
Servings – About 5 cups (2 ½ pounds), plenty of appetizer for a crowd Cost - $6-7 (without pinenuts, which are rather expensive)