Caponata (Sicilian sweet and sour aubergine)


One of our favourite week-night recipes, this is somehow so much more than the sum of its parts. Though it sounds a bit fancy, ‘caponata’ basically just means ‘stuff’ in Italian – this is a Sicilian dish that’s excellent for using up leftovers and relies on store-cupboard basics for a great depth of flavour. Finely chopped gherkins work if you don’t have capers, and you can’t go wrong with an anchovy thrown in too if you’re not serving vegetarians. It can be served hot or at room temperature, with bread on the side or mixed through pasta or rice for a hearty dinner. It’s also one of those dishes that’s better the next day.

Serves 4, mixed with pasta or served with bread.

2 large aubergines, chopped into 1cm cubes
2 tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts – chopped if using walnuts
400g tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 sticks celery (reserve a small handful of leaves), sliced
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons pitted olives, halved
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1 small tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons light olive oil

Pour hot water over the raisins to swell them slightly.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a large frying or saucepan and fry the aubergine until soft and golden. Remove to a plate covered in kitchen paper to drain.

Add the second tablespoon of oil, reduce the heat low and sweat the onions and celery until softened (5-10 mins); add the crushed garlic, capers and olives for the final two minutes. While you’re waiting for the onions, heat another frying pan and toast the chopped walnuts or pine nuts until lightly browned.

Tip the tinned tomatoes and tomato puree into the onions and simmer for five minutes until it thickens slightly. Add the vinegar and sugar and stir for a minute to dissolve the sugar, then stir in the aubergine, most of the walnuts/pine nuts and raisins (reserve some nuts to sprinkle over at the end). Season with pepper – you probably don’t need salt as the olives and capers are salty.

Reduce the heat, part-cover the pan with a lid and bubble gently for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Stir through the parsley, sprinkle over the remaining nuts and celery leaves and serve (if you’re serving this with pasta you may want to mix the pasta with the caponata then top with nuts and celery leaves).