When I was little, I really hated aubergine. As an ingredient so widely used in Italian cooking, I was always encouraged to try it again and again and again, but I was convinced that I would never understand the appeal. I’m so pleased that our tastes change as we grow up because aubergine is now one of my favourite vegetables and the main ingredient in two of my favourite dishes; melanzane parmigiana and caponata.
Caponata is an aubergine based dish; a little bit like a chunky vegetable stew. It’s really versatile and can be used alongside almost anything. It’s great as a pasta sauce, works really well with pork chops (my Dad’s favourite), but I like it best when cold and eaten as antipasto.
I’m not really one for following recipes, but I base my caponata on this one by Antonio Carluccio. If you’re going to turn to anyone for Italian cooking inspiration it has to to be this guy! Again, the beauty of caponata is that you can make it exactly how you like it, adding in extra ingredients to suit your taste.
For my caponata, I used:
- 2 Aubergines
- 2 small onions
- 4 sticks of celery
- A handful of green olives (stoned)
- 1 tbs of capers
- 1 tbs of white wine vinegar
- 1 tbs of sugar
- A few glugs of olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 100g tomato puree
- Salt and pepper to season
Dice your onion and celery and blanch in boiling, salted water for a few minutes until soft. Drain and set to one side.
Slice up your aubergine any way you like. Most recipes suggest keeping it quite chunky but it completely depends on the consistency you’re after. I like caponata to be fairly smooth and so tend to dice everything into quite small pieces.
Heat a few glugs of olive oil in a pan and fry the aubergine until soft and brown. At this stage (and on my Mum’s suggestion) I took my aubergine out of the pan and drained some of the juices. The liquid is the part that can sometimes taste quite bitter and I find that this step really helps create a much more balanced flavour.
Pop the aubergine back into the pan and add the onions, celery, chopped garlic, olives, capers, sugar, white wine vinegar and tomato puree. I always add more tomato than a recipe will suggest (I doubled the amount suggested by Carluccio) as I really like the combination of aubergine and tomato, but this is where you can sort of make things up as you go along.
At this stage I added roughly half a pint of water, some salt and pepper, then put a lid on the pan and left it cooking for around twenty minutes.
Again, depending on the sort of consistency you want, you can alter the cooking time so that the vegetables are cooked to your desired softness. I cooked mine down until everything was really soft and the ingredients all well combined.
And it’s as simple as that!
Serve straight from the pan with pasta or meat, or leave to cool and enjoy cold with some good ciabatta. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but can also be frozen in an airtight container/freezer bag.