Have you ever met a food that was perfect for you? You wonder where it has been all your life? It finally happened to me last year. It was love at first bite. For a week after we met I could think of nothing else but when we could meet again. My husband Sean called me from work to check in. "I'm head over heels in love" I say. "With who?" he asks. "With Caponata" I say. Sean, "Wierd". Me, "I know, but I can't help it I've never felt this way before." Click.
I had admired Caponata from afar but had never learned to make the real Sicilian version because for a long time I harbored a secret fear of......frying. There are may versions of Caponata but to make real Sicilian Caponata, the kind I fell in love with, you need to first deep fry the eggplant. My fear stemmed from a couple of things. First, the mess that it always seems to create and secondly, the effect that it would have on my body to consume deep fried foods.
As with all my fears, they are best faced with a friend and in this case it was Michele who showed up at my door and agreed to show me how to make it. I cowered behind him as he cubed, floured and fried the eggplant and when he was done my fear had disappeared. It never fails to amaze me how bringing our fears to others rather than keeping them in the dark helps put the proper perspective on the matter.
Eggplant is a bit moody. It you treat it wrong you will be sorry. When I first tried to cook with it years ago it would just end up an oily soggy mess. Then I tried salting it with sea salt first to get the moisture out, but made the mistake of rinsing off the salt instead of brushing it off and you might as well just throw it away rather than cooking it at that point. There is a season for eggplant which in Italy is more in the spring and summer than right now, but I made it anyway last night because I had promised to introduce my friend Charmaine to Caponata. Turns out she also has had a fear of frying.
Ecco la ricetta- La Caponata:
1 red onion cut in half and sliced
3 or so whole garlic
around a half cup green olives-whole are fine
around 1/4 to 1/2 cup capers
5-6 anchoveys (the kind in oil)
a can of chopped tomatoes
handful of chopped parsley
If you've never had a fear of frying skip this next part but for those of you with my disease I will include a few tips on frying. To start, choose your cooking oil carefully. Peanut, safflower, sunflower or canola are best as they don't break down at high temperatures. Choose a deep, very heavy skillet to fry with. Add oil to the cold pan, leaving a headspace, or space at the top of the pan, of at least two inches. It is very important that food that is fried must be dry so this can be tricky with eggplant. It is a good idea to flour it and let it sit on a wire rack for 20 minutes to ensure this. Heat the oil until a cube of white bread browns in 60 seconds, about 350-375 degrees. Don't add too much of the eggplant at once or the oil temperature will drop and will absorb fat instead of instantly searing.
So with that said, heat oil, add cubed, floured, dry eggplant in batches and drain on a paper towel. Meanwhile in a big skillet heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and saute the onion and whole garlic for a few minutes. Add the capers, smashing them in your hand as you put them in along with some of the liquid from the jar. Saute a couple of minutes then add olives and a ladel of water to keep everything from sticking. Finally add the tomatoes and saute' 15 to 20 minutes adding more water if needed. Turn off the heat and add the fried eggplant and parsley. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil before serving in bowls as an appetizer or on bread.
Ecco La Caponata. My true love.
By the way, the cooking demonstration was accomplished with two dogs and 6 young kids running around the house trying to wrestle my very tall 13 year old to the ground, cooking in a kitchen the size of a closet. No blood, no burns, full tummies. Let's see Gorden Ramsey do that without cussing. Who are the real Top Chefs? Us mom's!