Many years ago (decades, acctually) I had the best caponata ever from a deli in Florida. I have no idea where it was, but I'll never forget the taste. I've never even bothered to attempt caponata because I knew I could never replicate it.
But I ran across a recipe for "Ratatouille Soup" the other day (which I plan on making tomorrow) and had an itch for something else eggplant. Getting a slow start on my cookbook project, I found this capanata in one of my Moosewood Cookbooks.
Moosewood is a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York which, I believe, opened back in the 70's. I have all of their cookbooks from my vegetarian days and love each one of them. Takes me back in time.
If you've never had caponata, it's a Sicilian relish often served with every meal. Every recipe varies, sometimes made with fewer vegetables, without pinenuts or olives, with sugar and raisins, but alway with eggplant and celery. This recipe recommends sauteing ingredients separately, but others cook everything altogether.
It is extremely versatile, it makes a good sandwich filling or pasta topping, a side dish to a simple chicken or fish entree, or served as an appetizer with crostini.
The recipes I found instructed the cook to coarsely chop the vegetables. When I put it all together, I wanted a finer chop so I re-chopped the mixture. Still not sure, I put half of the caponata in a food processor and pulsed it a few times and ended up mixing half of the pulsed vegetables and half of the finer chopped vegetables. It's completely a personal preference and what you'll be using it for.
Also, I omitted the pine nuts and ended up adding 1 tsp of dried oregano and 1 Tbsp tomato paste. I halved the original recipe so what is posted below is the amount I made.
CAPONATA (makes 2 1/2-3 cups)
1 small eggplant (about 1#), unpeeled, chopped into 1/2" cubes (2 1/2-3 cups)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped or sliced
1 large red or green pepper (or 1/2 each), chopped
2-3 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sliced black olives
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted, optional
1/2 Tbsp rinsed and drained capers, optional
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp tomato paste, optional
1 tsp dried oregano, optional
S&P to taste
Soak the cubed eggplant in salted water to cover for at least 15 minutes and then rinse and dry.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet (I used cast-iron), saute the onion in EVOO (about 1 Tbsp). After a couple of minutes, add the celery. Saute, stirring frequently, until celery is brightly colored and still somewhat firm; remove the onions and celery to a large mixing bowl.
Add a bit more EVOO to the skillet, and saute the peppers, stirring frequently. When the peppers are almost done, add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saute for just 1 minute more; add this to the bowl with the onion mixture.
Add the a bit more olive oil to the skillet, and saute the eggplant until golden and tender. Add the rest of the ingredients (pine nuts through oregano) to the mixing bowl while the eggplant cooks. Add the sauteed eggplant. Mix well.
If you like, use a large chef's knife to chop the mixture even more. Depending on the texture you're looking for, consider adding part or all of the mixture to a food processor and pulse 2-3 times (or leave the original mixture as is).
Serve hot, chilled, or a room temperature.
Recipe Source: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, 1990, p. 333