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Caponata: A Savory Eggplant Dish
By Charlie Burke
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This past week we cooked a harvest dinner, sponsored by the Sanbornton
Historic Society and the Sanbornton Farmers’ Market and chose a Mediterranean
theme because this is the one time of the year when our gardens are full of the
vegetables featured in this region. The region’s casual but serious approach to
food stresses uncomplicated preparation of the finest fresh ingredients, and this
preparation of eggplant is a delicious example of this cuisine.

Caponata is a savory preparation of eggplant which balances the sweetness of
sugar and raisins with the acidity of wine vinegar, which the Italians call
agrodolce. Originating in the south, the inclusion of raisins and pine nuts reflects
the Moorish influence upon Sicilian food. Modern transportation has blurred
Italian regional boarders, and caponata now can be found on menus throughout
the country.

Best served cold or at room temperature, it is frequently found in antipasti, but
makes an excellent side dish for grilled fish or chicken. Served with goat cheese
and a salad, it makes a great lunch on a hot summer day. My version tasted
authentic, thanks to coaching from my friend, Giovanni Leopardi, a superbly
talented chef form Turino, who serves inspired food at
Carpaccio, Ristorante
Italiano in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Six servings:

2 medium eggplants, approximately 2 pounds, in ¾ inch cubes
2 – 3 stalks of celery heart, chopped
1 Vidalia or Spanish sweet onion, coarsely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ tablespoon pine nuts
1 cup pitted green olives or small brine cured black olives
3 tablespoons capers, preferably salt cured, rinsed
1 ½ tablespoons golden raisins
2 teaspoons sugar or to taste
½ cup wine vinegar or to taste
1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped basil leaves for garnish, optional

Sprinkle chopped eggplant lightly with salt which will cause it to exude
moisture during cooking. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and coat
liberally with olive oil. Cook eggplant, stirring frequently until cubes are golden
brown and most moisture has evaporated.. Remove eggplant from pan and add
more oil. Over medium heat, add celery, onion, garlic and tomato and cook until
most moisture is evaporated and mixture has thickened. Add olives, capers, pine
nuts, raisins, tomato paste, sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Add eggplant
and its juices and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste, adding salt, pepper, sugar or vinegar to correct seasoning; cook an
additional few minutes . Serve at room temperature or cold, garnished with basil
leaves.

Caponata stores well in the refrigerator, its flavor improving with time, so this is
ideal to make ahead to add an authentic Italian touch to appetizers or meals.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer'sMarket Association, president of the NH Farm to
Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with
his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill
Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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