Friday, September 11, 2009

Bill's Bastardized Caponata

I was always a bit leery of the brown black mass of vegetables that Grammie, Uncle Phil and Uncle Joe would scoop out if the little cans of Caponata or Caponatina. It looked to me as if it had spoiled in the can. It was only many years later that I started to appreciate veggies and even later that I saw what went into variations of this stuff and became interested. The first time I saw a recipe for Caponata, it was on The Frugal Gourmet's television show. That started me asking questions of Grammie. I cannot claim that this recipe is Grammie's, and it is only vaguely similar to other recipes I have seen elsewhere or in Italy. It is my own creation, based on the fact that I can barely tolerate eggplant. Eggplant is usually the main component of Caponata, and the color of the Caponata is much darker when there is more of it. In this recipe, I use the method from the Frugal Gourmet, but it is equally good if you use a charcoal, wood or gas fired grill to roast the vegetables once they are sliced or whole in the case of peppers and tomatoes.

Cube up all of your veggies in about 1 inch pieces. Larger is OK if you like the texture that way, but smaller probably will produce a paste when you are done. Eggplant should be sliced or cubed, skin on, and tossed with salt. Then, place the pieces in a colander with a weight on top to drain out the bitter juices.
Toast or fry the nuts till golden.

One medium eggplant
Two small zucchini
A large or two medium onions(I would discourage red. Pearl or cippolini would be wonderful whole).
Two large ripe tomatoes or 1 package of cherry or grape tomatoes
Several stalks of celery
Green and red peppers
Two or three carrots
Green and black olives(Pitted will be better for easy consumption, but whole olives hold together better in cooking)
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 can of tomato paste
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt(sea salt is best)
Red pepper flakes
Oregano(dried only please)
One whole head of garlic
3/4 cup Pignoli or slivered almonds(toasted)
Large cucumber(not traditional but I love it in the finished dish)
Three or four anchovy fillets, rinsed (Optional)
1/2 cup capers, rinsed
Good quality grated cheese of your choice...Nothing soft.

Cut the tomatoes into bite sized pieces or halve the cherry tomatoes.
Place on a baking sheet with the garlic cloves (Peeled) drizzle with olive oil and toss around to coat. Bake at 250 degrees for at least two hours.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, preheat a heavy coat of olive oil till near the smoke point and fry the drained, rinsed and dried eggplant till lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.

Add more oil and repeat with the zucchini.

Repeat with the celery,peppers, onions and carrots. If you have issues with pepper indigestion, roast and peel the peppers instead. Then cut them up.

Return all the cooked vegetables to the pan. Pour in the tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons of vinegar,sugar,1/2 cup olive oil,one tablespoon of oregano, pepper, pepper flakes and anchovies if using. Bring to a boil and lower heat just to a bare simmer for about twenty minutes or just until the vegetables start to become tender. The eggplant may get very soft, but the other vegetables should be a bit crisp still. Stir often. If the liquid is thick and wants to burn, add a little water, but leave uncovered to evaporate. A few minutes before it is cooked, add the olives, tomatoes and garlic cloves. Remove from the heat, and as it cools, add the rest of the ingredients except the cukes, nuts and cheese. When almost cold, taste for salt but remember that it may get saltier as it sits because the capers will steep in the sauce. Also correct for vinegar and sugar. Add the cukes and nuts. Put it into the refrigerator to blend overnight. Taste and correct again. Add cheese to taste. Allow to warm to room temperature to serve. Serve with Endive scoops, Crusty bread, over pasta, as a sandwich condiment, on a bed or cup of lettuce or alone on a plate just to eat.

Alternatively, if you like your veggies crisper, mix all the liquids for the sauce separately, bring to a boil and pour over the veggies and cook briefly. You could also brown the paste in oil for a couple of minutes to darken and give a less RED sauce.

Now this is completely open to interpretation. I love cucumber and like Zucchini much more than eggplant, so shuffle things around to suit the seasonal vegetables and your preferences. That is what they would do in Italy. This will freeze OK without the cheese. Play with this, but remember to watch that you do not overcook the vegetables. Try grilling everything instead of frying.
You might even consider adding raisins to this when it is approaching the end of its cooking time...not for me though.

Put a cup or two in the food processor and grind it to a paste for a spread or dip on all kinds of stuff.

This is SWEET AND SOUR which is a big thing in Italy.

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