My very first real job was in a small student town in the North Island of New Zealand (NZ) called Palmerston North. The reason it is called Palmerston North is because there is a town called “Palmerston” in the South Island of New Zealand. Full marks for imagination I suppose.
If one wasn’t a student or had a partner/family/pet in this little town, it could get terribly boring. Given I was flush with cash for the first time in my life (not really, but it felt like it), I signed up to as many activities as I could after my work day. Running, swimming, salsa, ceramic painting and so on. Just so happened, 2 other friends of mine, finding themselves in a similar situation as I did, signed up to an “Italian cooking class”. I took cooking classes to be a slight on my ability as a self-made home chef so I shunned them. I could follow recipes well enough on my own!
As fate would have it, one of the two friends couldn’t take the small town politics any more and went back to BIG Auckland (population 1.5 million, largest town in NZ). One of her leaving gifts to me was her place in the cooking class. I smiled and accepted gracefully as that’s all I could do. I went to the first one with great apprehension but to my surprise, I loved it. Our cooking teacher would give us a list of ingredients for the following class. We bought them and then got given recipes for a 3-course meal. We had two hours to cook this 3-course meal and then we’d sit together and have dinner with the teacher. One of the evenings, we even had an olive-oil tasting session. After attending this class, my image of cooking classes changed completely. I’m going to a wine-tasting class soon and will report back.
The friend who remained in Palmerston North was from Germany and was on an exchange programme. So before she went back, she scanned all the recipes from the class and mailed it to not just herself but to me too! I have the entire collection and I printed some of my favourites for my cooking album. The tiramisu recipe earlier on this blog is one of hers. This Caponata recipe is another.
Our teacher told us that Caponata is originally a Sicilian recipe but had spread throughout Italy taking many forms. While it is usually served as a “Contorno” or vegetable side dish, I have always eaten it as a main. It goes with pasta, with pita bread and more recently as I discovered, as a pizza topping.
Hope you try it and like it!
Ingredients (Pictures 1-4, 8):
1 large eggplant, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup diced, seedless Roma/plum tomatoes (I use a tin of diced Roma tomatoes)
1/3 cup fresh, chopped parsley
1/4 cup sultanas
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or balsamic if you have that at home)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped, pitted black olives
2 teaspoons of capers
4 teaspoons of olive oil for cooking
1. Soak the sultanas in boiling water and set aside while following the rest of the recipe (Picture 3).
2. This is the most important step of the dish – cooking the eggplant. Heat 3 teaspoons of in a large frying pan/wok and add the diced eggplant to it. Sauté for 10-12 minutes until well cooked and browned. Transfer to a serving bowl (Pictures 5-7).
3. Heat the remaining oil and sauté the onions for 3 minutes until light brown (Pictures 8-9).
4. Add the garlic to the oil and sauté for another minute (Picture 10).
5. Add the canned tomatoes to the onions and garlic and cook for 2 more minutes (Picture 11).
6. Pour this mixture over the eggplant and allow to cool (Picture 12).
7. Add the sugar and red wine vinegar to the wok and stir until the sugar dissolves (Picture 13).
8. Add the olives, soaked sultanas and capers to the vinegar-sugar mixture and mix well (Picture 14).
9. Finally, add the eggplant-tomato mixture to the vinegar mixture and mix well (Picture 15).
10. Take the Caponata off the heat and transfer to a serving bowl and add parsley to the dish (Picture 16).
11. Mix the parsley in and serve with bread, pasta or use as a pizza topping (Main picture above).
1. Caponata keeps well and can be kept in the fridge for upto 5 days.
2. You can eat it hot or cold but usually at room temperature.
3. Try substituting eggplant with zucchini.
4. To make pizza with caponata, use thick pita pockets as a base. Spread a generous serving of caponata on the bread. Top with slices of mozzarella and freshly grated pepper. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts in a 200°C oven.