You may have been wondering where I wandered off to the past few weeks (or perhaps not, and are just excited there is a recipe on this page). Well let me tell you, it was nowhere near the hot and humid swamp DC becomes during the summer. I was across the Pond basking under the Sicilian sun. Now, I notice that when I travel and try local cuisine, I often gravitate towards the simple, vegetable melanges that would likely be consumed in humbler homes. Luckily, on the agriculturally-dominant southern Italian island, these are not hard to come by.
Sicily has its own vibe (and cuisine), distinct from mainland Italy, with influences from across the Mediterranean region. Caponata, which is now considered a quintessential Sicilian antipasto (or appetizer/side), likely has roots in Spain and came into being during the early 18th century. Eggplant forms the basis for all traditional varieties of this dish, which is probably a product of Arabic influences and introduced from India. Regardless, this slightly sweet, slightly tart stew (or relish) can be a hearty meal for any vegetarian traipsing around Sicily.
Caponata alla Sicilian (modified from Whole Foods)
2 large eggplants, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 bulb + leaves fresh garlic, minced
1 large zucchini, cut into cubes
1 cup celery, diced
14 oz canned Roma tomatoes or fresh chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbs honey or agave
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded
1/4 teaspoon sea salt + additional for eggplant
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup green Sicilian olives, pitted and chopped
1. Place eggplant in a large bowl and toss liberally with salt. Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss chopped eggplant with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a baking dish. Cook eggplant for about 25 minutes or until flesh starts to melt.
2. While the eggplant is sizzling in the oven, heat rest of oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Cook onion for 5 minutes until translucent, and then add in garlic, celery, and zucchini. Take off heat after another 5-10 minutes.
3. Once eggplant is done, add to skillet with tomatoes, cooking another 5 minutes or so. Follow with capers, raisins, vinegar, honey, basil, and chili flakes, keeping on medium heat until everything is tender. Finish with pine nuts and olives and serve warm, or allow to cool and refrigerate overnight.
4. Serve with crusty bread and a vibrantly green salad!
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