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Turning eggplant into Caponata makes a strong, dense blend of flavours.   It tastes best made a day in advance and served at room temperature.  This makes it an easy first course which you can arrange in glasses or on plates before the guests arrive, and set on the table while people are still having drinks.

Caponata

Ingredients:

  • 1 large and 1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cut into smallish cubes of about 1/2-inch 
  • 2  Tablespoons of olive oil plus 1 Tablespoon for roasting eggplant
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup of red pepper, cut in smallish cubes, like the eggplant
  • 1 cup of homemade tomato sauce (the quick recipe is in Step Two, below).  All you will need is a medium can of tomatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic, a little tomato paste and some dried oregano.
  • 1/4 cup of red wine
  • 3 Tablespoons of capers
  • 2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar, dark or light
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil, bunched in a ball and cut into thin strips
  • Garnish for the finished Cocktails:  a thin slice each of lemon and lime peel and a sprig of fresh thyme, as shown here in the photo is one possibility
  • Note:  Some people like a few Tablespoons of raisins and toasted pine nuts in their Caponata.  Either way it’s good.  Black olives are also good in it, but if your menu includes olives elsewhere, you might want to leave them out of the Caponata.
  1. Place the eggplant cubes in a colander, sprinkle on some salt and mix it around with the eggplant. Put a plate on top of the eggplant and weight it down with a couple of cans to drain while you preheat the oven and make the tomato sauce.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  For the tomato sauce: Empty a medium-size can of cubed tomatoes into a food processor and blend.  In a small pot, heat a little olive oil and add one or two chopped cloves of garlic.  As soon as the garlic begins to brown, remove it from the heat and let it cool a little so that the tomatoes don’t spatter when you add them.  Add the tomatoes and about 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste and a teaspoon of dried oregano.  Simmer gently to thicken a little for about 10 – 15 minutes.  Set the sauce aside and roast the eggplant.
  3. Squeeze the eggplant cubes with your hands to remove as much liquid as possible and transfer them to a bowl.  Mix the cubes with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and spread the cubes on a baking pan.  Roast for about 35 minutes, or until the eggplant is golden.

    Ready to go in the oven

  4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized heavy casserole or a skillet.  Add the onions and saute  until they begin to brown.
  5. Add the garlic and capers and red pepper and cook for another couple of minutes:
  6. Mix together the balsamic vinegar, sugar and red wine, then add it to the onion mixture and continue cooking over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by about half.
  7. Add the roasted eggplant, the fresh basil and the cocoa powder and cook a minute, stirring, to blend:
  8. Add about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.  The mixture should become very thick., but add a bit more tomato sauce as the Caponata simmers, if it seems too dry.
  9. Garnish the cocktails.  Arrange two slices of grilled garlic toast on the plate with each cocktail.

© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011

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