Describing the eggplant caponata is not easy for me, because I can’t find any adjective to exactly define it. In my opinion it is one of the major masterpieces of Sicilian cuisine. When you come across this perfect and graceful dish and you taste this gathering of flavors and smells, typical of our cuisine, it’s like reliving in a moment all of the millennia of history that dominate us.
The eggplant was brought to us by the Saracens, who called it badindgian, sicilian citizens have adopted it and we made of it one of the most representative ingredients of our cuisine. Let’s think for instance to the sumptuous ” Pasta alla Norma “, to the luxurious ” aubergine parmigiana ” and to the hundred other ways in which the sicilian chefs express themselves in Sicilian cuisine. The eggplant became the queen of all the vegetables in the course of time, to such an extent that (as Gaetano Basile says in his book), not infrequently , poets and storytellers have compared it to a beautiful woman: pulpy, turgid and with shiny black skin….
The sweet and sour taste, of Persian origin, arrived in Sicily thanks to the Muslims .
With regard to the origin of the name, there are different “schools of thought “. Somebody things that the sailors were the first to use this sauce that softened their hard crackers and they called it “jail capon”. The publicans instead called it with its Latin name: cauponae . Some others claim that the name has been handed down to us by the Monsù , who used the sauce to keep the fowl for a short time, including the capon. This ingredient defined those preparations as capponate. Some others report that this sweet-sour taste was necessary to season the dolphinfish cut into pieces . We call this fish capone , in Sicilian dialect , this explains the link capone-caponata.
Beyond the etymology of the word, I can certainly say that this dish is unique and they are necessary just simple ingredients like the local eggplant to prepare it. The aubergine has, among its features, the one to be compact to the right point, so as not to allow the absorption of oil while frying. Some other typical and simple ingredients of caponata are the capers, the celery, green olives and the unmistakable sweet and sour typical of this symphony of smells and tastes.
Ingredients for the caponata
Oil for frying
1 big celery and 1 onion
300 g green olives
3 tablespoons of pickled or salted capers
1.5 lt fresh tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 glass of vinegar
2 tablespoons of sugar
Directions for the caponata
Wash the eggplants, remove the stems together with the ends of the eggplant, cut just a strip of peel, by practicing a vertical cut that goes from end to end. Now, cut the eggplant into rather big cubes and fry them in hot oil. Put them to drain on blotting paper.
Clean the celery removing all the green leaves, cut it into pieces and boil it in salted water. Fry the sliced onion in a large pan. As soon as it is it is golden brown add the boiled celery, the pitted and chopped olives, the pickled capers ( if we use the salted capers we have to wash away the salt) and the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cook . When almost cooked, add fried eggplants to the sauce, let it cook for few minutes. Meanwhile, melt the sugar in the vinegar and pour it on the sauce with the eggplants. Let the vinegar simmer well. It is a dish that is best appreciated when eaten cold.
The caponata pie is the “noble” version of the common Palermo’s caponata .
Ingredients for the caponata pie
The freshly prepared caponata
550 g flour 00
200 g lard
40 g granulated sugar
120 g dry white wine
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A generous pinch of salt
The day before, mix the flour, the lard, the sugar, the cinnamon, the salt, the whole egg and the egg yolk and the wine. Mix quickly so as to obtain a smooth and homogeneous dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator.
Grease a baking tray or cover it with baking paper, then roll out the shortcrust pastry and make two discs. With the first one we’ll cover the pan to the edges, the other one it is necessary to close the pie.
Pour the caponata into the baking tray, then cover with the other shortcrust pastry disk, taking care to seal well the edges. Put into the oven at moderate temperature for about thirty minutes. Serve cold or tepid.