Rosie says, “For the past few years our summer holidays have been spent in Sicily, eating almond granita and lemony brioche for breakfast, soaking up the sunshine by day and feasting on fresh pasta and volcanic wine by night. We’ve loved exploring Sicily’s beaches and baroque towns, and have been drawn back repeatedly by its cuisine. While the question of whether we’ll get there this year hangs in the balance, cooking caponata – one of Sicily’s most iconic dishes – is a way for us to get a taste of the island at home.
July, being peak picnic season, is a good month to make caponata, which is – aside from being highly portable – a party of juicy summer veg and agrodolce, the sweet and sour Italian sauce. Here, it consists of tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, and cloaks chunks of oily aubergine and crunchy carrot and celery. Recipes vary across Sicily, changing with the regions and families, but the aubergine and tomato are non-negotiable. By the time you’re reading this, I’m hoping to have harvested some of my own to use.
I’ve eaten several versions in Sicily and referred to my notes on my favourite elements while developing this recipe. I also spoke to my friend, food writer Rachel Roddy, who says: “This dish grew out of resourceful cooking – it’s about that double whammy of vinegar and honey or sugar, but there are many different ways of making it.” Rachel also shared a recipe by director of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, Fabrizia Lanza, from her book Coming Home to Sicily. I’ve used it as a blueprint for my own recipe.
Unlike Fabrizia’s, my version doesn’t advise you to deep-fry the aubergines. Instead, I roast them in olive oil, then mix them into the sauce. Once you’ve made a batch, it can happily sit in the fridge for days, improving as the ingredients meld. Those chunks of aubergine act as sponges, sucking up all the flavours.
This is what makes it perfect picnic fodder. As Rachel jokingly observes: “A friend of mine has a theory that caponata is always better after a sweaty car ride.” Lanza suggests serving it with quartered hard-boiled eggs, and I can confirm it’s a great pairing.”
- olive oil 10 tbsp
- aubergine 1 large (about 400g), cut into 3cm pieces
- celery 2 sticks, strings removed, thinly sliced
- carrots 1 large or two small, sliced into 3cm pieces, then finely sliced lengthways into rectangles
- red onion 1, halved and finely sliced
- bay leaf 1
- dried chilli flakes a pinch, (optional)
- red or white wine vinegar 2 tbsp
- tomato passata 270ml
- caster sugar 1 tsp
- green olives 2 tbsp, pitted
- capers 2 tbsp, rinsed
- toasted pine nuts 2 tbsp
- mint leaves to garnish
- Kcals 252
- Fat 22.8g
- Saturates 3g
- Carbs 7.5g
- Sugars 6.8g
- Fibre 3.9g
- Protein 2.4g
- Salt 0.4g