Caponata –Sweet Pepper and Aubergine Stew / peperone dolce e stufato di melanzane
“This stalwart of the Sicilian menu when made well tastes like a rich and exotic 'ratatouille'. It tastes better the next day …. but serve at room temperature.” Maxine Clark. “Caponata is one of the outstanding vegetarian dishes and appears in many different versions throughout the island of Sicily.” Anna Del
- 4 medium aubergines, sliced and cut into bite-sized cubes
- 2 sweet pointed red peppers, seeds and white pith removed, sliced and cut into 2cm x 2cm pieces
- 5 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery sticks, cut in half lengthways and sliced into small pieces
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 courgette, ends removed, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
- 12 very ripe large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, (preferred) or 2 x 400g tinned Italian plum chopped tomatoes
- 100ml Italian tomato passata
- 50g sultanas
- 100g best green pitted olives rinsed and chopped in half
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar -Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- A handful of mixed Italian herbs, eg oregano, flat leaf parsley, sage, finely chopped and mixed together
- To serve:
- About 200g fresh vegetarian ricotta cheese lightly spread over the top
- Toasted chopped almonds
- Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
- Salting the aubergines. Put the cubes into a colander in layers, sprinkling the layers with salt. Set aside over a bowl for 20 minutes, then rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels.
- After salting, toss the aubergine cubes into a roasting dish and the sweet red peppers and courgettes into another roasting dish. Add the cooking olive oil, ground sea salt and pepper and half of the mixed herbs. Using your hands, spread them out and mix thoroughly. Roast in an oven preheated to 200°C (180°C Fan) (400°F) Gas 6 for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. If there is too little oil in the pan add more. Don’t allow the aubergine to become dry. Stir the mixture and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until well browned, but not burned, and fork tender.
- Meanwhile blanch the celery and carrot in boiling water for 6 minutes then plunge into cold water. Drain and set aside.
- Put the sultanas into a bowl and cover them with hot water. Leave to plump up for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a roasting pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat until softened, but not browned, add the tomatoes, and then cook for 15 minutes on a low heat until pulpy, stirring often. If the mix becomes too dry add the passata. Add the olives, vinegar, sultanas, sugar and the remaining mixed herbs to the sauce, stir and cook for a further 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Stir the aubergines and sweet peppers 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).
- Transfer the mix 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.
- Serve warm or at room temperature in a shallow bowl and top with the fresh ricotta, almonds, parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
- Serving options: To make Caponata into a perfect nutritionally balanced vegetarian meal garnish with hard-boiled eggs. Pass the hard-boiled eggs through the small holes of a food mill or metal sieve and before serving cover the Caponata with the sieved eggs.
- Alternatively use poached eggs: 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.
Cooked, reviewed and photographed by IAN and JOAN (Worcestershire, UK). Also reviewed by MARK who lives in Cardiff, Wales, UK.
“Good morning John
Sorry for the delay but as you can see from the pictures we have now completed our mission. Don’t know if this is how the meal is meant to look but it tasted very good! You may want to fine tune the Method eg courgette not referred to and I was a bit confused about the mixed herbs being referred to twice. A successful culinary result washed down with a glass of Italian red (Montepulciano D’Abruzzo).
Hope you are both well and enjoying the autumn sunshine.
Joan and Ian” (Note: the recipe has been corrected following Ian and Joan’s comments)
Here is Mark’s review:
“Well John, I tried a similar dish in my slow cooker last year. It turned out sloppy and runny. In yours the veg all held their shape even though the peppers were soft. I found it a most hearty meal, eaten with ciabatta bread and I enjoyed the piquant undertones. A great winter warmer. Thank you.”