Caponata is a Sicilian eggplant appetizer, but it can also be served as a side dish for fish. It has a sweet and sour character. The secret to making a successful caponata is to get the balance between the vinegar and sugar just right – not too vinegary, not too sweet. There are hundreds of versions of this dish, but the basic ingredients are eggplant, tomato, celery, onion, vinegar, and sugar. The eggplant, onions, and celery are first fried separately and then simmered with the remaining ingredients.
This easy recipe however, does not require any frying. My mom called me one day elated that she had discovered a new process for making caponata. She was too lazy to make it the usual way and so she decided to throw it all together and bake it in the oven. Mom’s recipe for caponata is delicious. I tried baking it and found there was no difference in the taste. Anyone who has ever fried eggplants knows they soak up loads of oil. Baking also cuts down on the amount of oil needed.
This recipe works best when made in a cast iron skillet.
EASY BAKED CAPONATA (CAPUNATA)
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Yields 2 1/2 cups.
1 large eggplant (1 pound) stemmed, washed, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup green olives, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened powdered cocoa (optional)
1. PREPARE THE EGGPLANT: Place the eggplant in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle eggplant with salt, mixing with your hand to distribute evenly. Let sit 1 hour. This process removes any bitterness from the eggplant. Do not rinse.
2. MAKE THE CAPONATA: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and water, mixing well. Set aside.
Using a large cast iron skillet, add the eggplant, olive oil, celery, onion, and tomato paste and stir together. Place on lower rack and bake for 20 minutes. Stir the eggplant mixture, cover the top with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes longer. Add in the vinegar, sugar, olives, and capers, and cocoa, mixing gently. Cover, place on the middle rack, and bake 15 minutes more. Stir well and transfer to a small bowl. Serve on thick slices of Italian or French bread.
Tip: Can freeze up to 4 weeks.