Hanging on to Summer

It's official: Autumn is here. For those of you lucky enough to have had an actual summer, the cool, wet weather of Fall might be a welcome respite from the heat, but on this side of the Atlantic, it's just more of the same... Summer never really made it to our shores, and Autumn just made himself at home. Luckily, food is always a good medium for a vicarious experience, and nothing says summer more than tomatoes, eggplants, and zucchini.

If you like ratatouille, than you will enjoy the following recipe for caponata. Generally thought of as a Sicilian eggplant stew, it can easily be mistaken for an Italian version of ratatouille (just don't say that to a Sicilan!), but there are just enough differences to convince you to try out this recipe. While I am sure there are as many versions of caponata as there are Sicilian grandmothers, I like to think of caponata as the zippy cousin of ratatouille. I also like to under-cook a lot of its components for added texture and crunch.

Serves 4 as a generous side dish, or 2-3 as a vegetarian main dish

2 large or 3 medium eggplants
1 red pepper
1 yellow or orange pepper
2 zucchini
1 clove garlic
1 medium onion, red or white
1 medium carrot, peeled
2 sticks of celery
1 generous handful of cherry tomatoes
90g/ ¼ cup pine nuts, or pumpkin seeds (or a combination of both)
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
125ml/ ½cup red wine vinegar
180ml/ 6Tbs tomato paste
125ml/ ½cup olive oil
sugar, optional

Top the eggplants, and chop into 2cm/1" cubes, set aside.
Finely dice the onion, and set aside.
Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a large saucepan.
Gently fry the nuts in the oil until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside on some paper towels.
Turn the heat up to medium high, and throw in the eggplants. Toss them every now and then so that every cube gets toasty brown.
Add the onion, a crushed clove of garlic, the bay leaves and the thyme.
Meanwhile, finely dice the carrot and the celery. Add to the pot when the onions are translucent and the eggplants have collapsed.
Chop the peppers into large-ish chunks, add to the other vegetables, and let them cook for about 5minutes.
Add the tomato paste and about half the vinegar. Let simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Chop the zucchini into chunks, and cut in half the cherry tomatoes. Add to the pot, and let simmer until just warmed through.
Adjust the seasoning: the stew should be salty-sweet with a noticeable tartness. You may need to add some sugar to enhance the sweetness. 
Stir in the nuts.
Let it cool down before serving.

Caponata is traditionally served lukewarm or even at room temperature, as a side dish, but can also be the star of the meal if you serve it alongside some crusty bread. It is also a lovely accompaniment for a tartine of goat cheese. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator, just leave it out for an hour before serving. Although you can probably freeze or can caponata, you will lose the crunch, so I would advise against any long-term preservation.

Bon app'!


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