Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Caponata Caper Challenge

Caponata photo by Massimoweb, posted on
Caponata is a cooked vegetable melange or relish, specifically, eggplant based, a more savory, sweet and sour cousin to ratatouille, originating in Sicily. It's usually served cold, or at room temperature. For a more formal and detailed description, please consult

I first became acquainted with this delicacy in my Brooklyn boyhood, in a canned version made by Progresso Foods. Several years ago, Progresso stopped making caponata, but  a canned version, made by Cento is available still. Progresso is owned by General Foods, which might explain the lack of caponata in its product lineup.

But if you are up to the somewhat challenging process, you can make your own, as I do.

Note: this post will not have a step-by-step, illustrated recipe, all too common on some food blog sites, where such critical steps as adding salt or pouring water, are tediously recorded in lush, digital images. (Usually after a lengthy preface by the blogger about her—and I use "her" deliberately—mother-in-law's cat, best friend's ex, or some other blather.

(I'd better stop here, or be guilty of that bad style myself.) In fact, it will not have a recipe at all, but I will link to another site.

My regular, go-to recipe is in the indispensable cookbook for the do-it-yourself cook, Better Than Store Bought. You can find it available on and other sites.

But this time, I decided to try a slightly different recipe, one I found on Simply Recipes is an excellent, reliable, no-frills recipe site.

Simply Recipes' caponata is very similar to that of BTSB's. The differences are that SR's doesn't have any sweet peppers; only green olives, and no oil-cured black olives; and it adds the silly extravagance of toasted pine nuts. I consider adding pine nuts the equivalent of burning money. $549 pesos for 680 grams/1.5 pounds at Also, SR's recipe does not bake the caponata, which for me is a plus, for good reason. (See below.)

Note that I prefer to multiply the quantity and freeze the results. Why use just one eggplant, when four will yield bountiful results for your freezer? But prepare to work.

 My loyal readers will recall that last Thursday, my oven door glass suffered a shattering end. We waited hours yesterday for the Sears Service Tech to arrive, and when I eventually called Sears, I learned that his service call was scheduled for Wednesday, not Tuesday. So, three quarters of my day was wasted, when I could have been making caponata.

Furthermore, I was out of celery, which for me, is essential in caponata. Worse, I was out of empty freezer containers. So, late in the afternoon, I made a fast run to Lower Pátzcuaro, where I arrived just in time as the vegetables and fruits stand next to Don Chucho's tienda was closing. But I scored a very large and fresh bunch of celery. Still, the base ingredient is eggplant, and I had four nice ones, purchased in Morelia last Thursday, but they were nearng their use by date.

Borrowed eggplants image
Serious celery, $40 pesos
The freezer containers were easily obtained at our local Bodega Aurrerá supermarket, although I had to lower my standards and buy other brands than the Joy brand I prefer. (Sorry, some image links are broken, and won't be repaired.)

Back at the rancho again, we set to work. It was around 5:30 p.m. First, Sra. Cuevas washed and drained all the new containers. I then cleaned and disinfected the celery. Next, I washed, dried the four eggplants into nifty little cubes, salting them to drain out any possible bitter juices. (Our friend, Jennifer Rose will tell you that the salting is unnecessary, but my bitter experience is that for me it is necessary.) The cubes were set to drain for an hour in a colander set over a bowl. Meanwhile, I prepped the other vegetables: onion, garlic, celery, sweet red peppers, etc.

A quick hour later, I drained, rinsed and patted dry the eggplant cubes. There was at least a cup of brown liquid in the bowl from the salting. FEH!

Probably the most challenging part of making a large quantity is cooking it in two skillets, and trying to keep the ingredients and seasonings evenly balanced between both. The single bottle of tomato Passata Rustica I added was insufficient, so I opened a precious can of Cirio Pomodori Pelati and roughly crushed the contents. In went the wine vinegar, a bit of salt and sugar. The two simmering skillets were stirred often for over half an hour, as I prepared the final additions.

Olives, fresh basil, a bit of minced anchovy, hot red pepper, then a seasoning adjustment after a few tastings. It was a bit sweeter than usual, but still, simply a recipe better than store bought.

All done by about 8:30 p.m. I scooped it all into two stainless steel bowls in order to blend any textural and flavor differences. Then Sra. Cuevas and I washed up the various pots and utensils.

I laid out the new freezer containers, and filled them in 20 minutes. The lids were marked with a Sharpie pen on masking tape. I let them cool, uncovered, at room temperature for a couple of hours, while I went to bed.
 Then I arose, lidded all, and put them in the fridge.

The yield was about 10 freezer containers of varying sizes.

Original photo coming soon to this web page. Watch for it!

A lot of work—for all this? It's worth it.
See below.

Caponata, fit for a capo.

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