Caponata is a classic Sicilian eggplant relish. It has a delightful medley of flavors—sweet and sour, salty and nutty–and is refreshing and delicious especially when it is served during the hot and hazy days of summer. There are as many variations of this dish as there are cooks and recipes may include such ingredients as red peppers, raisins, capers, potatoes and even fish and anchovies. This tasty eggplant stew can be served as an appetizer, or as a relish or side dish to accompany fish, chicken or beef. It is best made one day ahead to allow the flavors to blend, but you can prepare caponata several days in advance, if desired. My favorite way to serve caponata is at room temperature on thin slices of toasted Italian bread. Here is my recipe for caponata. Buon appetito!
In two 12-inch skillets, heat 1/4 of the olive oil (you will be using 1/2 cup total for the two skillets). Divide the eggplant, place in the two skillets and cook in the hot olive oil until it is lightly browned, stirring occasionally. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer eggplant to a medium bowl.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-reactive saucepan or dutch oven. Add the celery, garlic, onions and green pepper and cook until softened and lightly brown—about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
In a small bowl, stir together the red wine vinegar and sugar. Add this to the tomato onion mixture along with the eggplant. Cook all vegetables for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender. (You can prepare the recipe up to this point 3 to 4 days in advance. Just cover and refrigerate.)
Just before serving, stir in the toasted pine nuts, olives, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.
Serve on fresh crusty Italian bread or crostini (thinly sliced toasted Italian bread).
Makes 2 quarts or about 24 servings.