Sicilian Caponata

Makes about 4½ cups or enough to serve 8

Eggplant may not be celebrated for its bold taste, but in caponata — the Sicilian sweet-and-sour antipasto — the unsung vegetable becomes a flavor-absorbing hero. This classic dish sometimes includes bell peppers or zucchini and always has contrasting elements of sweet (sugar and/or raisins), sour (vinegar), and salty (capers and/or olives). The word caponata is said to be of Catalan origin meaning “tied together like vines.” Salting the eggplant breaks down the cells, preventing it from absorbing too much oil. And the best way to “tie together” the contrasting flavors is to let the relish mellow in the refrigerator for a day or two. Serve it on grilled bread, or beside roast chicken or fish.

 

1 large eggplant (about 1½ pounds), cut into ¾-inch dice

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 can (about 15 ounces) diced tomatoes

½ cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

⅓ cup golden raisins

6 large green olives, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon pine nuts

¼ cup torn fresh basil

 

1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread the diced eggplant in one layer. Sprinkle with the salt and toss gently. Let sit for 20 minutes, or until beads form on the flesh. Blot dry with paper towels.

2. In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil until it shimmers. Add half the eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender. Transfer to a bowl, trying to leave as much oil as possible in the skillet. Cook the remaining eggplant in the remaining ¼ cup oil in the same way. Transfer to the bowl.

3. Lower heat to medium and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and raisins. Bring to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the liquid reduces by half.

4. Add the eggplant, olives, capers, and pine nuts. Continue simmering for 5 minutes more.

5. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool. Serve cold or at room temperature, sprinkled with basil.

By Claudia Catalano. Originally published in The Boston Globe.