(2 votes)

olive oil
2 medium eggplants, cut into small cubes (skin left on)
freshly ground black pepper
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, cut into small dice
3 tender inner celery stalks, cut into small dice, plus a handful of celery leaves, chopped
1 ripe pear, peeled and cut into small dice
1 summer garlic clove, minced
2 round ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice
about 1 heaping tablespoon sugar
about 2 to 3 tablespoons high quality red-wine vinegar
a small palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked and rinsed to remove excess salt
a handful of green olives (French Picholine olives are a good choice), pitted and roughly chopped
a handful of toasted pine nuts
a small handful of shelled, unsalted pistachios
a dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped

In a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the eggplant, season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until tender but still holding its shape (you don't want to cook it into a mush). Transfer the eggplant into a large serving bowl.

Wipe out the skillet. Add a few more tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and celery, including leaves. Sauté until the vegetables start to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the pear and sauté a few minutes longer. Add the sugar and the vinegar and cook until the vinegar has reduced to almost nothing. Add the capers, green olives, and pine nuts. Add this to the eggplant and mix well.

Wipe out the skillet again, add a little more olive oil, and sauté the garlic over medium heat just until it gives off an aroma, less than a minute. Add the tomato and sauté a few minutes longer, just until it heats through. Season with salt, and pour into the bowl with the other ingredients. Mix well.

The caponatina should have a pronounced sweet-and-sour taste. If it needs more vinegar and sugar, heat them together in a small pan until the sugar is dissolved and the vinegar has reduced, then mix them in. Balance the sweetness with a touch more salt and black pepper, if necessary. Let sit a few hours, unrefrigerated, to develop flavor. Right before serving, mix in the basil leaves and garnish with the pistachios. Serve at room temperature with hot, toasted Italian bread slices that have been brushed with olive oil. If you need to make the caponatina a day ahead and refrigerate it, make sure to return it to room temperature before serving (the cold will mute its flavor).

Makes 4 servings

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