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Seasons’ Eatings: Sweet and Sour Eggplant Caponata with Breadcrumbs

2012 June 29
By Allison Radecki
Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Eggplant CaponataNutley, NJ- Hosting an old friend in your home is wonderful.  Hosting an old Sicilian friend who is a gifted and giving cook is even more so.For ten days in June, my friend Mario visited our New Jersey homestead from Catania, Sicily.  His open suitcase offered dried oregano, cannoli-shaped earrings, and the most incredible sugared almond paste with which we made breakfast granitas.  He enveloped our home with the scent of frying eggplant, simmering tomatoes, and freshly plucked basil and taught a primer course on Sicilian slang as he stood at the stove.

One of my favorite new terms was “Futtatinni,” which roughly translates as a coarse way of saying ‘don’t worry about it– take life as it comes.’  For someone living in the fast-paced suburbs of New York with a rambunctious (and walking!) 1 year-old, this was a word to remember.

After Mario returned to his flavorful island, I longed to keep the feel of his visit going.   With eggplant on the brain and an outdoor thermometer creeping up into the 90s, a cooling dish of caponata, a sweet and sour Sicilian cooked vegetable salad, seemed to be the way to do it.

Taking the olive oil and dried red chili flakes from Allison’s Crispy Five-Spice Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder recipe from last week, the RecipeRelay was on!

CLICK HERE for the full post and recipe.

Caponata is a dish that gets even better as it steeps in its own flavors and is traditionally served at room-temperature.  Offered as side dish or a light snack, piled on top a piece of toasted bread, it is easy and breezy once the cooking is done.Making a dish which requires frying multiple batches of chopped vegetables in hot oil may not be the smartest recipe to attempt while sharing space with an active toddler who goes by the nickname, ‘Lively.’  In the spirit of my newly acquired Sicilian slang, I thought “Futtatinni” and did it anyway.

I won’t lie– the prep work and initial cooking of caponata is labor intensive.  Though, if you time it right and stagger the cooking to fit your schedule, you can make it work and reap the sweet deliciousness of the final dish, which can be kept for up to a week in the fridge.

As the baby took her morning nap, I brought out the big knives and diced the eggplant, celery, green olives and onions.  Salting the eggplant cubes and allowing the bitter water to drain away in a colander for an hour was done as she woke up and resumed her crusade to climb over the safety gate at the bottom of our stairway.  I’m always amazed at the rich, black-brown liquid that emerges from the salted cubes.

With the addition of a blanket on the floor– far from the stove top– and a selection of wooden spoons, toys, and celery stalks, my kitchen companion was kept busy (and under my eye) as I fried the various components and watched her process from the fridge to the dishwasher, wielding celery like a ninja warrior.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant Caponata with Breadcrumbs

Inspiration taken from Clifford A. Wright’s Cucina Paradiso and Viana La Place and Evan Kleinman’s Cucina Fresca

Prep Time:  1 hour and 30 minutes  (this includes 1 hour of eggplant salting)
Cook Time:  1 hour
Total time:  2 hours 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
  • One medium eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Salt
  • Olive oil, for deep frying (about an 1 inch in the bottom of a frying pan)
  • Four celery stalks, without the leafy tops, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • One medium sized onion, chopped
  • Three Table spoons of Tomato Paste
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup of Sicilian green olives, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons of breadcrumbs

Cooking Directions

  1. Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes.  Spread on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.  Let stand in a colander for one hour, so that the bitter liquid drips down into a bowl below.  Then, pat dry the eggplant pieces with paper towels.
  2. Heat the olive oil for deep frying in a pan.
  3. Deep fry the eggplant in small batches over a medium flame until they are browned and crispy.  Set aside.  Dry the celery and deep fry until the edges are brown.  The celery will reduce in size as it fries.
  4. Take 1/4 of a cup of the olive oil used for frying and mix it with the extra virgin olive oil.  Saute the onion in this oil mixture until it changes color, about 6 minutes.  Add the tomato paste diluted with a bit of water.  Stir and cook over a moderate heat for 10 minutes.  Gently stir in the sugar, vinegar, capers, olives, eggplant and celery.   Add  pepper if necessary.  Cook for 10 more minutes.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and mix well.  Let cool to room temperature. Use as a side dish for a summer feast or piled on bread for an afternoon snack!