This traditional Sicilian summer time staple makes for a spectacular appetizer or meal for those too-hot to cook days. Pile it on top of toasted Altamura bread.
- 2 lb small Italian eggplants (about 4)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt or 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped red onion (1 medium)
- 3 medium celery ribs, cut crosswise into very thin slices
- ¼ cup large green Sicilian olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
- 1 oz Italian capers packed in salt, rinsed well
- 1 oz Pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
- 1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes & sprinkle with salt, place in colander over sink for 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant in a colander under running water, then gently squeeze dry in small handfuls with paper towels or kitchen towel.
Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet or preferably a Dutch oven over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring, until pale golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer onions to a heat proof bowl. Next add celery to oil and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer celery to bowl with onions. Add eggplant to skillet, cooking in batches so you don’t crowd the pan until golden brown on all sides. Once the last batch of eggplant is done cooking, add back into the pot the onions, celery and rest of cooked eggplant, olives, capers, and 2 tablespoons sugar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir in vinegar and tomato paste.
Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Add chopped mint. If sauce is very acidic, add 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (to taste). Generously spoon over toasted Altamura bread.
Cook’s note: Caponata is even better the day after and keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving.