Monday, June 18, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Caponata

Anyone who was part of my mom’s soirées—either in Larchmont or North Brookfield—knows that caponata was one of her staples. Probably inspired by my dad’s roots, she regularly made this Sicilian-born cooked vegetable “salad” as an appetizer in large batches that she served and/or froze for future use. 

So, as part of my Father’s Day menu of grilled sausage (thank you, Peter!) and pasta with vegetables (thanks again, Peter!), and grilled ribs (thank you, Seth!) I made an appetizer of caponata. Now, I tried to recreate it based on my memory, and some recipes I found. I’m proud to report that both my parents (and the 15 other guests!) enjoyed it. In fact, hmmm...maybe it will be one of my staples! About the amount,  I ended up with plenty—enough for my daughter to take some for lunch today (and wrap in a fresh flour tortilla) and much more.

Serves 15 to 20 as an appetizer, and about 8 as a side dish

3 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch dice
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
3 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 six-ounce can tomato paste, thinned with about a 1/4 cup of water
1 3/4 cups crushed canned tomatoes
6 ounces pitted green olives, halved (and drained—you can always save the “juice” for dirty martinis!)
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup capers
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts (plus additional for garnish)
3/4 cup basil chiffonade (leaves rolled and sliced into elegant ribbons)
35 baguette slices fresh or brushed with olive oil and toasted

In a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, heat about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once it starts to shimmer, add the garlic. Then add a layer of eggplant (you will have to sauté in batches). Cook, stirring occasionally, until  browned all over, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the eggplant is very tender, about 4 more minutes. Transfer to a platter with paper towel (to soak up some oil), and repeat with remaining eggplant.

Add olive oil as needed, and heat over medium. Sauté the onions and celery for a couple of minutes, until the onions start to brown and soften, about 5 minutes.
Return the eggplant to the pan, and add the tomato paste. Cook for about 2 minutes until the caramelized, and add the crushed tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar and chocolate and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add pine nuts and 1/2 cup of the basil ribbons.  At this point,  the caponata can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. 

Serve at room temperature. Add about 1/4 of fresh basil leaves and some pine nuts just before serving.  

Full menu:

Mango Salsa with Fresh-Toasted Corn Chips
Horseradish Hummus with Carrots
Caponata with Fresh Baguette Slices

Grilled Sausage with an Apple-Orange Leek and Onion Topping (recipe to come!)
Seth’s Famous Grilled Ribs
Pasta with Assorted Roast Vegetables
Leafy Green Salad with  Cucumber,Toasted Cashews, Dried Cranberries, and a Light White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Grandpas Tony and Lionel--A.K.A my dad--and father-in-law!


  1. Love new ideas for appetizers. Thank you Arlen for sharing your Sunday dinner with us. Can't wait to make this !

  2. Thanks, Darcie! I think you'll like today's post--which will be coming up around midday!