I think the best way to hack a caponata is to get someone else to make one for you but he or she has to be trustworthy. A caponata made without love can be a very disappointing affair. I am not a goody goody, by the way, and rely on tricks and tips and short-cuts to make life run more smoothly, but when it comes to certain dishes there can be no cutting of corners.
I started out well enough, in an Eiffel Tower kind of way.
I cut up some aubergines/eggplant into chunks, sprinkled salt over them and placed a plate and weight over them to help their inner liquid demon ooze out more readily. By the way, the Le Creuset-type cast iron saucepan you see? Slightly battered. So sad, I dropped it the other day and was on the brink of throwing it away but just couldn’t find the heart to do so because it had belonged to my Swedish grandmother and so it is easily close to being 100 years old. It can continue to be used in other ways.
I had left the aubergines to sweat for at least an hour and this is how much ‘stuff’ they released.
Time to rince the aubergine chunks thoroughly, to rid them of the salt.
Time to squeeze the water out of them. This can be a bit of a pallaver so another good hack is to find an obliging husband to do this manly job for you.
Now the whole point of salting the aubergines is to make frying them a happy affair: they will not absorb too much oil and their texture will be more pleasing. So, give yourself brownie points for not skipping this important step.
Off I went out then and did whatever it was I went out to do BUT I took an awful long time doing it. Hence, when I came home, it was late and supper had to be made and I was tired and was in no mood for frying these aubergines. Which is what is required of a true, proper Caponata di Melanzane. After a bit of head scratching and huffing and puffing and chiding myself for wanting to attempt a caponata on a busy day, I decided to go maverick. Be a caponata iconoclast! I told myself.
I lay the chunks on a pyrex dish and dribbled some nice olive oil and sprinkled a little bit of salt and … yes, you guessed it. I put them in the oven to cook. (Where’s that icon for the palms of both hands resting on both cheeks in a show of amazement?). UNHEARD OF!
They cooked in the oven at 180°C for about 40 minutes.
When they cooled down, I covered them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. I was exhausted and went to bed.
THE NEXT DAY
I placed 4 tablespoons of sugar in a small pan and poured white wine vinegar to cover it by more than 1 inch. Cook the vinegar until the sugar melts and set aside.
Chop up some onions and cook over a low heat. Add a bit of salt as well as sugar.When the onions have gone golden ..
Add some very good-quality Italian plum tomatoes. A caponata is best made with sweet fresh tomatoes but I didn’t have any on me. I used a pair of scissors to chop ’em directly in the saucepan. This is the ‘salsa’ that we are preparing, and it should cook for about 15-20 minutes.
Celery. Celery is an integral part. Pare the celery stalks, cut them up and blanch them in some salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.
Also – but I don’t have any photo – rinse some salt dried capers over and over again, and have them at the ready.
IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
Add the celery and cook for a couple of minutes.
The sauce was getting a little thick and now was the right time to pour in the sweetened vinegar. Sorry, no photo of me pouring it in.
Then in go the baked aubergines.
Lots of fresh basil. Combine all the ingredients. Job done, the heat can be turned off.
One last thing. Toast some pine kernels.
Once it had all cooled down, I put the caponata in a glass container in the fridge. So the great thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared in advance.
We were getting ready for an outdoor grill with family, at my in-laws’ house in the Marche and the caponata took pride of place where the vegetable side dishes were concernerd.
I stuck some more fresh basil in the middle.
And everyone said the caponata tasted lovely.
I, being a fusspot, continue to prefer the fried version. But it’s good to know that the next best thing is the oven approach.
I don’t know whether you are acquainted with Frank Fariello? If not, you should definitely check out his super blog “Memorie di Angelina”. Bless him, he wrote the following comment on a recent post I had written:
“Lighter it may be but never as good.” Amen, I say, to that. I’ve tried various light version of parmigiana and they’re invariably disappointing. Nothing like the original recipe, heavy as it may be. I remember my grandmother dipped her eggplant slices in flour and egg as well. Made the dish even heartier but boy was it heavenly!
We’re on the same page Frank and I … I am a fried-food-fanatic! But, if you don’t like the idea of frying, this oven cooked aubergine caponata will do very well indeed, I promise.