I’ve yet to visit to Sicily – but a friend in London with Italian heritage once served me caponata – an aubergine-based stew with a sweet-sour marinade – and I’ve loved it ever since. Just like tabbouleh, it sings summer to me with its fresh vegetables and deep tomato flavour, and I find we mostly eat it during those months.
Being the meddler that I am, I’ve experimented with taking away some ingredients and adding others. I often prefer to omit the olives and serve the caponata alongside some homemade olive bread instead – sometimes topped with some melted mozzarella.
The dish is far better served at room temperature, and it will keep happily in the fridge for at least five days, getting more flavourful by the day.
2 large aubergines, cut into cubes
400g tin of good quality plum tomatoes, lightly drained
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves of crushed garlic
Two sticks of celery, finely sliced
Handful of chopped green or red olives (optional in our house!)
2 tbsp of capers
Quarter cup of wine vinegar (red or white) and 2 tsp sugar, mixed together
Olive oil for frying
2 tbsp pine nuts or flaked almonds, lightly toasted (optional)
Optional extras could include some marinated artichoke hearts (lightly chopped), some roasted red peppers or some lightly sautéed and sliced chestnut mushrooms.
Fry the aubergines in olive oil in a frying pan until they start to brown. When this happens keep the heat on but don’t add any more oil and cook until they start to soften (aubergines are like sponges and you can really go on and on adding oil, but they’ll just end up heavy and greasy). Adding a little water to the pan can help steam them along.
Remove aubergine cubes from pan, and put in the onion, garlic, celery and tomato puree and fry until slightly soft. Add the tinned tomatoes, roughly chopped, and re-add the aubergines. Cook for around 10 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly the add in the vinegar/sugar mix to taste and stir well. You can experiment with this. You may prefer a more sour flavour (so reduce the sugar) or a sweeter flavour (reduce the vinegar). Stir in the capers and toasted nuts.
I usually transfer the mixture to a covered Pyrex dish and leave it in the fridge for at least half a day. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before serving.