Making caponata is a bit of a process but reaps such a reward. At room temperature, it’s wonderful as part of an antipasti spread or as a side dish with simply roasted or grilled chicken, pork, or fish when served warm. Leftovers taste great on a sandwich the next day.
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- 1 medium Italian eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup pitted green Italian olives, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon drained tiny capers in brine
- Kosher salt
- Pinch peperoncino
- 3 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
Heat a thin film of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium. Add the eggplant cubes and fry, stirring and turning them so they cook evenly, until the eggplant is golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon, and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.
Heat the olive oil in a second large skillet. Add the zucchini and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the eggplant. Add the onion and celery to the olive oil remaining in second skillet, and cook until the vegetables are wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins, green olives, pine nuts, and capers. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and the peperoncino, and continue cooking, stirring, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, make the sugar-mint syrup. Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and the mint, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes.
Pour the syrup into the skillet with the vegetables and simmer to combine. Stir in the eggplant, zucchini, and pepper mixture and cook to heat through and bring the flavors together, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover caponata keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Return to room temperature before serving.