I think I could write a book about caponata. I realize that this is a rather dramatic statement to make about something as simple as onions, celery, zucchini and eggplant cooked with tomatoes. But it’s the vinegar combined with just a touch of sweetness (in my case always honey) that makes this Italian version of the French ratatouille a subject of endless possibilities. Like each day of the week — caponata is never the same way twice — and this is exactly why I love it.
When I want something savory — something simple — and something stuffed with vegetables — this is what I cook. The caponata itself is done in no time when both the oven and a sauce pan are put to use. While the pasta cooks al dente, I stir fry some wild spinach with garlic and red peppers. Explaining how to make the dish actually takes longer than the time needed to bring it in all its glory to the table. Please bear with me to the end of this narrative which describes each cutting and stirring technique in detail. After all is said and done I hope a personal favorite of mine will become yours.
- one fresh zucchini about 250 grams in weight
- one bright and shiny firm eggplant about 250-300 grams in weight
- one onion . white or red . about 175 grams in weight
- two-four celery stalks about 100 grams in weight
- two sprigs of fresh rosemary
- four sprigs of fresh mint
- 1/4 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
- 50-75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 50-75 ml white wine vinegar
- 50 ml or two tablespoons of raw organic honey
- sea salt
- one tablespoons of capers . optional
For the stir-fried spinach
- 400 grams of fresh wild spinach
- two cloves of garlic
- one spicy red pepper
- 25 ml extra virgin olive oil
- a pinch of your favorite sea salt
For the pasta
- 250 grams whole wheat or spelt spaghetti or linguine
Preheat the oven to 215 degrees celsius.Wash and dry the zucchini and the eggplant, cutting off their stems. Cut the zucchini in half and place the flat side down on the cutting board. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into spears and then into even-sized cubes the size of a large green pea. Repeat this process w for the cutting of the eggplant.Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spread the diced eggplant and zucchini evenly over the surface of the cookie sheet, and sprinkle them with a pinch of sea salt. Roast the vegetables in the oven 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel the onion, slice it in half, place the flat side down on a cutting board and cut it vertically into four to six equal parts. Dice the onion into small cubes, about the same size as the zucchini.
Mix the vinegar and honey in a bowl until the honey dissolves. Heat a skillet with the olive oil. Add the onions and saute two minutes. Add one tablespoon of the honey-vinegar mixture and stir it through the onions. Cook the onions at medium heat until they soften, about five minutes. Remove the threads from the celery with a paring knife. Cut them into narrow sticks lengthwise, and chop them into a fine dice. Add the celery to the sautéing onions and pour over the remaining honey-vinegar mix. Simmer the ingredients five minutes and turn off the heat.
In the meantime, wash the spinach a few times in a large bowl of water. Blanch the spinach two minutes and drain in a colander. Fill up a pot with water for the pasta, adding a teaspoon of sea salt to it and bring it to a boil and return to the activities of finishing the caponata as follows.
Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Stir the tomatoes into the onion-celery mixture and add the grilled eggplant and zucchini to the pan, thus allowing the flavors to mingle. Pick the leaves of rosemary and chop them fine with a sharp knife. Cut the stalks and the leaves of the parsley very fine as well and tear the leaves of fresh mint. Rinse the capers in cold water. Stir in the freshly chopped herbs and capers. Mix the caponata and taste it for the right balance between sweet and sour. Add a splash of vinegar or a teaspoon of honey if needed and according to taste. I like my caponata a bit on the tart side, by the way.
There are only a few more tasks at hand to bring this recipe to the table. Peel two cloves of garlic and cut them paper-thin. Cut open the red pepper and remove the seeds. Slice the pepper into a fine dice. Bring the pasta water to a boil and plunge the pasta in the pan until cooked al dente (see the package instructions). Drizzle the olive oil into a pan. Add the peppers and the garlic and saute them at medium heat. Stir in the spinach and stir fry the whole lot. Add a good pinch of sea salt and turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta in a colander and toss the caponata through it. Make individual or shared plates of the stir-fried garlic and pepper spinach and dinner is done.
This pasta is perfect as is. Even though seemingly time-consuming it is a definite fast food alternative and can be made a few hours before being served. Although I am not crazy about cold pastas, because the caponata has a tartness to it, this dish is wonderful at room temperature. If you feel the need to fill it up with something substantial, add 6 minute boiled eggs to each bowl at the table. Or shave your favorite aged cheese over the top.
I will be adding a longer slow-cooked version of caponata soon that involves cooking down tomatoes into a thick sauce. This particular kind of caponata makes for a perfect relish and goes more than perfectly with grilled fish and thickly sliced toasted bread.
This recipe is my twist on one of Jamie’s 10 Food Revolution recipes. I gladly contribute to Mr. Oliver’s campaign as super ambassador of the Food Revolution. I too feel that teaching and passing on cooking skills to friends and family makes life not only more meaningful but infinitely more valuable on an emotional level. Read more on this here.