serves: Serves 8 to 12
This dish exemplifies Sicilian cooking, especially in the late-summer months, when eggplant, tomatoes, and pepper s are at their best. The same kind of summer-vegetable preparation also appears in French ratatouille. But the difference is that the Sicilians make it agrodolce, sweet and sour: cooking some vinegar and sugar, then tossing with the vegetables. The acidity in the vinegar hinders spoilage, and in hot New Orleans summers, this dish keeps well without refrigeration. Caponata requires a lot of preparation, but once done it keeps well in the refrigerator for up to ten days, and freezes well, so it makes sense to make a big batch. It is a very versatile dish – as an appetizer with some cheese, as a side dish, or as a delicious sandwich stuffer. Actually, it improves if left to steep for a while. I love it at room temperature with a piece of grilled meat or fish.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, cut unto 3/4 inch chunks
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, seeded, cut into 3/4 chunks
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 cup vegetable oil
2 small firm eggplants cut into 3/4 inch chunks
2 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
⅓ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
12 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, cut into strips
½ cup drained tiny capers in brine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, celery, and peppers, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and drop in the bay leaves. Toss a few times to coat the vegetables in the oil, then cover and let sweat over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes.
Heat ½ cup of the vegetable oil in another skillet over medium-high heat. Slide in the eggplants and cook, turning to brown all sides, about 6 to 7 minutes. Drain the eggplants on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Add the remaining ½ cup of oil to the skillet, and repeat with the zucchini, browning on all sides, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove the browned zucchini, and let it drain along with the eggplant.
Meanwhile, bring the vinegar and honey to a boil in a small saucepan, and cook until syrupy and reduced by about half, 2 to 3 minutes.
When the onion, fennel, celery, and peppers are tender, uncover and add the sun-dried tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, to evaporate excess liquid, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Sprinkle in the capers and oregano. Pat the eggplants and zucchini dry, and season with ½ teaspoon salt. Add the eggplants and zucchini to the skillet with the other vegetables, and toss to combine. Drizzle in the reduced vinegar mixture, season with remaining ½ teaspoon salt (or as needed), and toss for a minute or two, just until the vegetables are glazed. Serve warm or at room temperature.