Serves 6 to 8
Summertime caponata, made with eggplant, is something one finds in almost any Sicilian household. I was born in Sicily, though I grew up in Torino, and my parents returned to Sicily when they retired. My father cultivated a large garden there for decades, and my mother continued to cook.
This winter version of caponata reminds me of my parents. It’s a terrific dish that uses butternut squash in place of the eggplant and goes beautifully with the Palermitana-style tuna when eggplant is not in season.
– Chef Nicotra
- 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon drained capers in brine
- 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and the mint, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until lightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Heat a film of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery-root cubes, and fry, stirring and turning them so they cook evenly, until the celery root is golden brown on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the celery root with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, and season lightly with salt. Add the butternut squash to the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and add to the celery root, seasoning the squash lightly with salt. Pour out the vegetable oil and wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel.
Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook until the vegetables are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes more. Season lightly with salt. Return the celery root and squash to the skillet. Stir in the raisins, green olives, pine nuts, and capers. Season with peperoncino, and continue cooking, stirring, until the vegetables are just soft but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, and cook until they just soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
Strain the vinegar syrup (without the mint leaves) into the skillet, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the syrup coats the vegetables and everything is very tender but not falling apart, 2 to 3 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.