This is my new favorite thing. A vegetable disguised as a condiment.
Now, most people (who shall remain nameless) have an aversion to eggplant and wouldn’t go near caponata even though it tastes about as much like eggplant as chocolate cake tastes like flour. Eggplant is the Jimmy Carter of vegetables. The victim of broad condemnation for no good reason. So, of the people who eat caponata, most use it as a dip, a topping for bruschetta or a kind of chunky sauce, something with a serving size of a tablespoon or two. I eat it by the cup full.
Caponata is an ideal platform for my culinary tradition of more.
I begin with a recipe from Martha Rose Schulman’s Recipes for Health. She starts you off with celery, and even though I don’t generally submit to the tyranny of celery, I added it here. Maybe the unfamiliarity of the dish made me anxious, maybe there just aren’t that many ingredients and I wanted to have enough finished product, a different form of anxiety. Maybe I was just feeling compliant.
Back to the recipe. So you have sautéed your celery and onions and then you add some chopped red bell pepper, and after that has softened, you toss in some garlic but don’t let it brown, then add the flesh of the eggplant which you have previously roasted. Add some chopped tomatoes and let the whole thing simmer and soften while flavors meld.
Dispense with compliance and on to the good part, raisins, capers, olives (black, of course) and then more of each. Pour in a TB of sugar and 3 TB of sherry vinegar. More softening and melding of flavors. Really, at this point you can’t even identify the eggplant.
With so much more, the final result is very flavorful, which is, I imagine, why people think of it as a condiment. But I like flavor and there are a lot of vegetables in there, so I eat it like a vegetable, hot or cold, with a pan-sautéed chicken breast, in a salad or straight from the bowl.
Even you might like it.