Caponata is a Sicilian dish that celebrates the world of sweet and sour perfectly, using aubergine, celery and sweet bell pepper cooked separately and combined with vinegar, capers and honey to really wake up and bewitch the tastebuds. The joy of this recipe is that it works hot, cold or warm, is better the next day and sensational with crusty bread. Rosa Mitchell is one of Melbourne’s treasured chefs who celebrates the robust flavours of her Sicilian heritage, serving caponata at home and in her restaurant.
“One important thing about caponata – never be impatient. Take time to brown and soften the aubergines – if you get a bit of aubergine and it’s still rubbery – eww! The gorgeous colours – this is my take on Sicilian caponata.” – Rosa Mitchell
Rosa Mitchell’s Caponata
3 aubergines, diced
5-6 celery stalks from the heart of the celery
6 long red bell peppers or a mix of green and red
180ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ large red onion, cut in half, then sliced
4 tbsp small salted capers, rinsed
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 handful of fresh basil
Put the diced aubergines in a colander over a bowl, lightly salt it and set aside for 1 hour for the salt to draw out the moisture and bitterness.
Cut the celery, including the leaves, into 1-2 cm pieces. Cut the peppers in half lengthways and then slice widthways. I like to cook each vegetable separately as they all take different times, then mix them together at the end. Tip the aubergines into a clean tea towel and pat dry. Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the aubergines and cook for 10-15 minutes, until tender and golden (don’t overcrowd the pan – cook in batches if necessary). You may need to add a little extra oil, as the aubergine can soak up a lot of it. Drain on kitchen towel.
Heat another 3 tbsp of oil in the pan, add the celery and onions and cook over medium-low heat until the celery is tender. Drain on kitchen towel.
Now add another 3 tbsp of oil to the pan. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Add the peppers, season with salt and cook over medium heat until soft.
Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, add the capers and mix well.
Add the vinegar and honey to a warm frying pan and cook for about 30 seconds. Pour over the caponata, tear over the basil and mix.
Extracted from Food Safari: Earth, Fire, Water by Maeve O’Meara (Hardie Grant, approx €35). Photograph by Toufic Charabati.