Caponata can be finished with a great many herbs, but if you need an excuse to use that chocolate mint you bought on a whim, this is that excuse. This is a seriously exquisite pairing. Chocolate mint is a pretty minty mint, but it’s piquance is toned down by the rich flavours of the caponata, while its greenness and chocolatiness elevate the dish’s use of fresh ingredients, lending it to a whole lotta uses.
My recipe is a bit different in that it’s quite a lot less oily than many, fennel takes the place of the traditional celery because celery is, like, the most square vegetable around, and I prefer prunes over raisins simply because prunes can be chopped into raisin-sized pieces, adding sweetness to the dish without the weird, popping experience that reconstituted raisins bring to the party.
Raisins, I don’t want your weird popping at my party, you filthy party poppers.
I like it over crispy fried or baked polenta, but it’s an incredibly versatile dish that can be served hot or cold, as an app or a main or a side or on eggs.
This recipe makes about 6 servings of caponata, but I don’t hesitate to make it for two because you can do so much with this sweet, sour and savoury dish. Here’s a little primer to prove it.
What you need:
- 1 large, firm eggplant, peeled, diced, salted and rinsed
- 1/2 fennel bulb, finely sliced
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly ground
- 2 tsp ground sumac
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, finely ground
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- Enough oil for deep frying
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 sweet red (or yellow or orange) pepper, finely diced
- 4 prunes, chopped
- 6 roma tomatoes, diced or 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1.5 cups of cold water
- 1/2 cup of pitted, green olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive brine
- 2 tbsp capers
- 1 tbsp caper brine
- Chocolate mint, chifonaded (a good two to three tablespoons for each eater)
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts or almonds
- Chili flakes
What you do:
- Toss the eggplant and fennel in a little salt and deep fry both in batches until golden brown. Resist the urge to shallow fry the eggplant because eggplant is basically a sponge in vegetable form and will soak up far more oil that way than deep frying and it will be gross.
- In a large pot or skillet over medium heat, toast the paprika, fennel seeds, sumac, cinnamon, cumin and nutmeg until fragrant.
- Add the oil, onion, garlic and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to brown.
- Add the prunes, tomatoes, water, olives, capers and brines and simmer let simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, adding more water, as necessary to keep it from drying out.
- Taste test and add more salt, if necessary.
- Stir in the eggplant and fennel and cook for another 5 minutes until everything is hot.
- Serve in whatever manner (but please try it with polenta) your wee heart desires, allowing eaters to season their own plates with the mint, nuts and pepper flakes.
Also, do this thing with it:
- Fry some eggs. One egg per eater.
- Toast thick slices of crusty Italian bread. One toast per eater.
- Over the toasts, great some Parmesan or Romano cheese.
- Over the cheese, lay some prosciutto or smokey ham.
- Over the ham, place an egg.
- Top the egg with a dollop or six of caponata.