Caponata – Sicilian Sweet Pepper and Aubergine Stew / Stufato di melanzana e peperone dolce siciliano

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Caponata – Sicilian Sweet Pepper and Aubergine Stew / Stufato di melanzana e peperone dolce siciliano

This stalwart of the Sicilian menu when made well tastes like a rich and exotic 'ratatouille'. It originates from little coastal bars (caupone in Sicilian) frequented by fishermen. It contained soaked dried ship's biscuit to satisfy appetites after days of deprivation at sea, but thankfully the biscuit has now disappeared! It tastes better the next day …. but serve at room temperature. Maxine Clark

Credit: Adapted from the book “Italian Kitchen – simple steps to great tasting Italian food” by Maxine Clark.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium aubergines, sliced and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 x sweet pointed red peppers sliced and cut into 2cm x 2cm pieces
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, sliced and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, cut in half lengthways and sliced into small pieces
  • 1 courgette cut into 2cm dice
  • 12 very ripe large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 2 x 400g tinned plum chopped tomatoes
  • 100ml tomato passata
  • 50g sultanas or raisins
  • 100 g best green olives stoned and chopped in half
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling and frying
  • Mixed dried Italian herbs, eg oregano, parsley

Method

  1. Salt the aubergines as described above.
  2. Soak the sultanas, or raisins if using, in a bowl of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, cover and set aside.
  3. Prepare the butternut squash and toss the bite-sized cubes into a roasting dish. Drizzle over extra virgin olive oil, grind in sea salt and black pepper and sprinkle in some dried herbs. Using your hands, spread them out and mix thoroughly. Roast in an oven preheated to 200°C (180C Fan) (400°F) Gas 6 for 30 minutes, until soft and fork tender.
  4. After salting, toss the aubergine cubes and the sweet red peppers into a roasting dish. Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, ground sea salt and pepper and mixed herbs. Using your hands, spread them out and mix thoroughly. Roast in an oven preheated to 200°C (180C Fan) (400°F) Gas 6 for 25 minutes, or until well browned, but not burned, and tender.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a roasting pan and add the onion and celery. Cook for 5 minutes until softened but not browned, add the tomatoes, and then cook for 15 minutes until pulpy, stirring often. If the mix becomes too dry add the passata. Add the olives, vinegar, sultanas and sugar to the sauce and cook for a further 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir the aubergines, sweet peppers and butternut squash into the tomato sauce until they are thoroughly mixed and warmed throughout. Taste and adjust the seasoning (this means adding more sugar or vinegar to taste to balance the flavours).
  7. Transfer everything into a lidded casserole dish while everything is still warm, cover with the lid and leave at room temperature for at least 2 hours so the flavours can steam and mingle and develop while the vegetables cool slowly. It is better the next day and even better the day after that. Keep it in the fridge but pull it out a good hour before you intend to eat it as the cold dulls the flavours.
  8. TIP: Serve warm or at room temperature in a shallow bowl and top with poached eggs, almonds and parsley.
  9. Make two shallow dents in the surface with the back of a serving spoon. Use a medium size saucepan, fill it half full off water and add 1 tsp. of malt vinegar, bring the water to the boil. Lower the heat to a gently simmer. Crack open two eggs and carefully drop them into the pan of water. Keep the heat down low and cook the eggs until they are firm (about 3 minutes). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place one each into the dents.
  10. Sprinkle a tbsp. of chopped almonds over the caponata and garnish with freshly chopped flat leaf parsley.
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