I’m sure in the past I’ve written of my love of the glorious aubergine, so I won’t bang on again here. Suffice it to say this Sicilian classic is one of the very best aubergine dishes ever created. If you know anything about Sicilian cuisine you will be familiar with the agrodolce (bittersweet literally) element that so many dishes feature. It is a delicate balance so you may need to add a touch more sugar or a touch more vinegar depending on the type of tinned tomatoes you use, as their acidity varies from brand to brand. Caponata is best served at room temperature which doesn’t mean you can’t make it well in advance, but if you have refrigerated it be sure to allow time to bring the dish up to room temperature. I know that using extra-virgin olive oil for frying is an enormous extravagance and you could substitute sunflower oil instead, but the flavour is really worth it. Besides, you can reuse the frying oil. I eat this on its own with bread but it makes a delicious sort of relish for lamb and griddled tuna steaks.
- 750g aubergines (3 small or 2 large ones)
- Maldon salt
- 200ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 200ml light olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 3 vine tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes
- 75g pitted green olives
- 50g sultanas
- 2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 ½ tablespoons caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Cut the aubergines into 2-3cm cubes. Place in a colander and sprinkle with ½ tablespoon Maldon salt. Leave to drain for 25-30 minutes.
- Wipe off as much salt and moisture as possible from the aubergines. Pour the oil into a large, deep sauté pan. Heat the oil until it is hot enough for a cube of bread to brown in 20 seconds. Carefully add about a third of the aubergines and fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining aubergines. Cool the oil and drain off all but 1 tablespoon.
- Add the onion and celery to the pan and stir over a low heat for 10-12 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add all the remaining ingredients except the parsley. Bring to the boil then cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Gently simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and taste and season with salt and ground black pepper. Stir in the parsley and leave to cool to room temperature. Serve with crusty bread.