Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Caponata

I was sad to hear recently of the passing of Antonio Carluccio. Many years ago I used to visit his Neal Street deli whenever I could and met the man himself there a few times. His respect and enthusiasm for quality ingredients and simple but intensely flavoured dishes were a significant influence on me. For instance, I didn't realise just how good Parmesan cheese could be until he scooped a piece from a wheel and handed it to me and I might never have tried to make risotto if he hadn't told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. He was a great ambassador for Italian food and I for one will always be grateful to him.
Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking
Although I use quite a few Italian recipes I haven't posted many here. The fact is that when I started this blog it seemed to me that the world really didn't need me to add to the mountain of recipes for Italian food. There were just so many blogs already specialising in Italian dishes and so many Italian restaurants down here in Surrey that if you threw grissini out of any window they would probably land in someone's arrabiata sauce. But it seems like a good time now to get around to recording just a few of the (inauthentic) Italian recipes that I use.

I think caponata is simply one of the most adaptable, versatile and useful dishes that I know (Italian or otherwise). It's made in advance and is easy to put together, although it does take a while. It's perfect for serving at room temperature as a relaxed starter, for taking on picnics, for feeding large gatherings or even heating up as a main course with pasta, rice or baked potato. (I know that heating caponata as a sauce might be frowned on by some but let's not worry about them.) More often than not I simply serve this with some good bread. My version is not very different from many other recipes for caponata that you might come across but it's what works for me. (It's not Antonio Carluccio's recipe by the way, but you can find his here if you'd like to try it).
Caponata
This will make at least 4 generous portions but the dish scales up very nicely for a larger or very hungry group. Don't worry too much about being exact with amounts; the dish will adapt very well to individual tastes and to what you have in the cupboard and veg rack. You definitely need a decent olive oil but it doesn't have to be a really expensive one.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 2 - 3 cm chunks (you don't need to be too precise)
1 large (or 2 medium) courgette, cut into roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks as above
60 ml (or thereabouts) olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and thinly sliced
Small pinch of chilli flakes
A generous pinch of dried oregano or about 1 tsp of fresh, roughly chopped oregano
1 can peeled plum tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbsp capers (I use brined capers, rinsed and well-drained)
50 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
60 g mix of sultanas and raisins
1½ tbsp caster sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 small (or ½ large) jar roasted peppers, drained  and roughly chopped (or grill and peel your own if you can spare the time)

To serve (these are optional but very desirable extras and you can omit if you’re really pressed for time):
2 small handfuls of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil

If you've got some fresh and firm aubergines then you don't really need to salt them but many of the aubergines I buy in supermarkets seem to produce a lot of water and so I do bother with the salting palaver. Coat the aubergine pieces lightly in salt and allow them to drain for an hour or so in a colander. Clean off the salt and pat the aubergine chunks dry. There's no advantage to salting the courgette unless it's more like a marrow than a courgette.

Brush both the aubergine and courgette chunks with some of the olive oil, place on separate lined baking sheets and roast in the oven at 180ÂșC until they're soft and have taken on a little colour at the edges. Chances are that the courgette will take a little longer than the aubergine, but 20 - 30 minutes should usually be enough.

Put the remainder of the olive oil (around 2 - 3 tbsp but don't worry if you don't have enough left, just add a bit more if you're in doubt) in a large pan and fry the shallots gently until soft (don't rush this). Pour in the tinned tomatoes and their juice and stir around to start breaking them up. Add the capers, olives, sultanas and raisins, sugar, vinegar, oregano and chilli flakes. Bring to simmering point, then add the roasted vegetables. Add a few turns of pepper and the roasted peppers, turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for around 90 minutes. Stir every now and then and make sure that the mixture doesn't dry out. (Add a little water or passata if it seems too dry).

Allow to cool and store in the fridge. It should keep for a few days but it will also freeze well at this stage. In my opinion (and I'm not alone), this is definitely best served at room temperature so remember to take it out of the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

If you have the time before serving, toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan (watch carefully because they burn very easily), allow to cool and either stir them into the caponata or sprinkle on the top. Immediately before serving chop or tear some basil leaves and stir them in as well.

4 comments:

  1. I too was sad to read of his passing, Phil. I met him once at a book signing with Genaro Cataldo, when they were doing their 'Two Greedy Italians'series on the Beeb. He showed me which was his favourite recipe in the book!
    Your recipe sounds good, and I look forward to seeing more Italian ones.

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    1. He always seemed to be generous with his time for anyone who showed a real interest or passion for Italian food. Thinking back to my visits to that deli all those years ago, I think it was the first time that I'd tried polenta cake, fine Italian breads, San Daniele and some of the less famous fresh wild mushrooms among other treats. I do owe the man a lot.

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  2. Phil, this sounds really good. I haven't made, or even had, caponata in years - must remedy that situation very soon!

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    1. I've got some in the freezer for Christmas just in case of visitors (or excessive hunger). In recent years this has become one of my basic standby recipes.

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