This recipe is a labour of love. There is a whole slew of ingredients, there are quite a lot of steps, there is frying to be done and there are no short-cuts. It’s the sort of recipe that is best done with a companion in the kitchen, to keep you chatting and sane … it’s the opposite of ‘quick’ and requires almost constant attention. Never attempt this recipe when you are in a foul mood or upset for any reason … the meticulous requirements will drive you to distraction … or worse.
The good thing about it is that it can be prepared the day before … in actual fact, it tastes better the following day. That and … its rich, many-tiered sweet-and-sour taste is redolent of slow-paced, summery indolence. Holiday mood. God help the poor cook who has to go through the ropes to produce this treat –but for whoever gets to eat the Caponata, the mood at mealtime is infused with a “peel me a grape, Beulah” idleness.
Aubergines, red onions, tomatoes, celery, basil leaves.
Pitted green olives, pine kernels, salt-dried capers, sugar, vinegar. Olive oil for frying. It has to be olive oil … no ifs or buts.
GETTING STARTED – THE FIRST THREE STEPS
EARLY STAGES IN COOKING
Quarter the tomatoes and using a teaspoon or a knife, get rid of all the ‘bits’ in the centre. What we are after is the pulp. We look down our noses at the rest of it (on the left in the above photo).
Now put all the quartered tomato pulps into a frying pan … and you can pour whatever liquid they have brought forth in the process of being cut up through a sieve. Throw what’s in the sieve away. Turn the heat on and start cooking the tomato sauce.
There is a lot of “set aside” in this recipe isn’t there!!!
On we plod …
THINGS ARE BEGINNING TO LOOK AS IF WE ARE GOING SOMEWHERE
All of the above was Part I. Now is the time to take a break, call a friend, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee or quaff some wine. It will need more than Dutch courage to get to the end of the recipe. Take deep breaths, you know you can do it, think positive.
The aubergines need to be fried. Aubergines are the greediest members of vegetabledom when it comes to guzzling oil, they can’t get enough of it. One way to stem this obnoxious lack of frying decorum, is to soak them in salted water for about 15 minutes and then ‘squeeze’ them and pat them dry. Another method that I find works very well is to dust them with a sheerest gossamer of flour. The flour acts like a shield, stopping the oil from penetrating.
On this occasion, I thought I’d be somewhat daring and eschew the above mentioned alternatives. The result was definitely oilier than I had hoped for … So after frying the aubergines and letting them release some of their oil on a paper towel, I upped the ante by mopping them gently with more paper towels. Oh … the pampering that these aubergines need!!!
When you have finished frying, and the aubergines have been left to drain as much of the oil as possible … cut them up into large squares. Notice all the oil oozing away. When I finished cutting the aubergines, I placed them on yet another paper towel and mopped them up to get rid of the excess. Then I sprinkled some salt and pepper.
If you have made it this far without losing your temper or wanting to burst into tears … you are a hero. Well done, you are made of sterner stuff than me. This is where I mutter under my breath that I will think about it 100 times before making this dish ever again. Or, as the Italians say, “Ma chi me lo ha fatto fare?” … i.e. who on earth forced me to do this? What induced me?
THE END IS IN SIGHT
Place the fried and cut up aubergines into the saucepan with all the other cooked ingredients. Turn the heat on and cook for about 3-4 or even 5 minutes. Taste and add a little salt or sugar, or both.
And then, when you taste the luscious complexity and clever consistency of the caponata, when it slides down your throat, and you close your eyes and hum an appreciative Mmmmmm, you feel just like a mother who has just gone through labour and sees her baby for the first time …. you forget all the pain and fall in love!
Another example (photo taken last year):