I’m pretty sure caponata is the perfect food. Maybe I’m just on a caponata kick lately and I’ll get tired of it eventually. My food fetishes come and go, but can last months (or years) at a time. After all, I did eat Crispix at least once a day for approximately three years. Sigh. I’m saddened thinking of all the good food I could have eaten instead that didn’t make me sick and tired. Oh well, live and learn, no?
Caponata is just the Italian word for “sweet and sour vegetable deliciousness.” We all know that’s a lie, but it should be true so let’s roll with it. The reason I love it so much is that it works at any time of day, at any temperature and with just about any protein accompaniment.
So many possibilities! You can top it with a fried egg for breakfast, throw it on top of some spinach for a quick salad, use it to stuff a baked sweet potato or pair it with some Italian sausage for a hearty feast. I know, right?!
Also, it keeps well and you can freeze it. I was recently out of town for a long vacation and realized I’d gotten a little aggressive in my pre-vacation produce purchasing. So Ihad a bunch of produce in the fridge that I needed to use up before I left. I whipped up some caponata, threw it in the freezer, and I had breakfast ready for my first morning back at home. Brilliant! It’s not unusual for me to make a giant batch of this stuff on Sunday and eat it all week.
The other awesome thing about caponata is that it’s pretty much the most flexible dish ever. You can add, subtract or substitute just about any of the ingredients. Experiment away! It’s hard to mess up this tangy, vegetabley concoction. Give it a try, even if you don’t like eggplant. I thought I hated eggplant, but this made me forget any hard feelings between us.
You know what really sucks? When caponata is ruined with pine nuts. Thankfully, this recipe is free of nutty evils. That said, if you’re a no-nightshade person then this recipe is not for you. I’m pretty sure eliminating the nightshades would just leave you with capers and olive oil, which seems wrong.
Nut Free Caponata (Sweet and Sour Eggplant Relishy Chutney-like Vegetabley Goodness)
Prep Time: 15 minutes for rinsing and chopping
Cook Time: 30ish minutes (but it’s better the next day!)
Servings: About 8-10 as a side, about 4 large portions as more of a main event
2 tablespoons of fat (olive oil and/or bacon fat are best)
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
1 green or yellow bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium Italian eggplant, cubed small
5 large button mushrooms, diced
1 can of diced tomatoes with juice, (fire roasted are best)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of capers
2 tablespoons of diced black or kalamata olives
1 teaspoon thyme leaves (fresh is best, but dried will do)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like spicy)
salt & pepper to taste
Heat the fat over medium-high heat in a large, deep, pan. I use a nonstick one, but enamel cast iron would work great too. Once the fat is melted and hot (but not smoking or burning) add the onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and stir to incorporate until fragrant, about two minutes. Then add the eggplant and mushrooms and continue to cook over medium-high heat until they have released their water and the eggplant browns slightly. Stir by lightly folding, trying not to turn the eggplant into complete mush as it cooks.
Once the eggplant and mushrooms are cooked sufficiently add the tomatoes, balsamic, capers, olives, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a light bubble over medium heat and let simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. The liquid should mostly be cooked off. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper to your preference.
Enjoy warm or pop it in the fridge and enjoy tomorrow cold or heated up.