This recipe has a quirky pedigree. Nancy adapted it from one given to her by a former Better Homes and Gardens colleague that came to the colleague a few months after her brother’s unfortunate death. A friend of his who absolutely detests eggplant read the recipe, with personal commentary, at his memorial service. People laughed so hard that near chaos broke out, because they all knew her brother expressed himself best through his cooking and writing. The real joke was that he claimed it was his Italian grandmother’s caponata when, in fact, he adapted the recipe from one that appeared in a magazine in the late ’70s, proof that good recipes keep getting better with many creative cooking hands.
Incredibly versatile, caponata is traditionally an appetizer served cold atop crackers. You’ll also love loading it along with goat cheese onto a halved baguette and baking it on a cookie sheet until the cheese melts. For vegetarians, there’s great merit piling it on hot cooked pasta; top with grated Parmigiana Reggiano.
Granted, caponata holds its beauty on the inside where all the flavor is. It goes together easily any time of year, but summer is particularly apt when fresh veggies are at their best. It also makes perfect sense to double the recipe and stash the extra in the freezer. Pull some out during the winter to enjoy the wonderful summer flavors once again.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 small sweet green pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 small sweet red pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives (optional)
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Salt and black pepper
1. In a large skillet, saute onion, celery, and garlic in half the olive oil over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; stir in red wine vinegar. Add half the parsley and all the oregano and basil. Continue cooking over medium heat until onions and celery are translucent, 7 to 10 minutes.
2. Add remaining oil, the peppers, eggplant, remaining parsley, and cayenne pepper. Stir in tomatoes and wine. Continue cooking, covered, over medium heat until eggplant is thoroughly cooked, about 30 minutes.
3. Stir in olives, if desired, capers, and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is evaporated, another 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot atop pasta or cold with crackers. Makes about 4 cups.