I have done many silly things in my life, but among the most foolish was going on the Atkins diet…
while in Italy.
When I think of all the pasta, pizza, gelato, sfogliatelle, rustici and cantucci that went to waste (i.e. didn’t get eaten by me) I practically weep with regret. All things happen for a reason, however, and if I hadn’t done the diet I may never have discovered caponata.
Consisting of large slices of grilled eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini, all marinated in some sort of tasty sauce, I found it at a deli of sorts at a large marketplace in Bologna. Luckily for me, I didn’t know that the reason it tasted so good was that it contained plenty of sugar and vinegar to make it ‘agrodolce’, or sweet and sour. I ate it voraciously, believing it to be ‘low carb’ (how wrong I was!) and was thrilled to find a recipe for it in one of my favorite books, Once Upon a Tart, when I returned to the States.
I now make caponata several times each summer, when the markets and our boxes brim with summer vegetable-fruits.
Though it contains similar ingredients to ratatouille, this Italian version is more like a savory vegetable jam or chutney than a stew. Currants, capers and olives give it depth and piquancy, and parsley and celery lend a clean, bracing bite.
The original recipe calls for sauteing eggplant, celery and onions one at a time, so that the components remain somewhat distinct in the end. I add zucchini and bell peppers for color and to harken back to what I ate in Italy, and I roast the vegetables in the oven, which I find easier and tastier, too, as it concentrates the flavors of the vegetables.
Caponata makes a lovely snack or appetizer, spread on olive bread, focaccia or crackers. A bit of fresh goat cheese makes an ideal accompaniment. Or toss it with some leftover penne for a cool pasta salad.
It may be agrodolce, but you don’t have to be aggro to make, or eat, it.
One year ago:
Extra-Sour Country Boule
Roasted Summer Vegetable Caponata
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart
Makes about 6 cups
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1″ cubes
1 teaspoon salt, plus another 1/2 teaspoon
4 medium summer squash (about 1 pound), cut into 1″ cubes
2 – 3 bell peppers, or 4 gypsy peppers, halved and seeded (or one 8-ounce jar roasted peppers)
4 tablespoons olive oil