Photography by Nathalie Carnet.
In my opinion, caponata is one of Italy’s finest traditional dishes. Whether I serve it chilled or at room temperature, it’s always a winner. Although cooked in oil, it is not heavy and it’s packed with sweet-sour flavors; if you leave the celery a bit crisp, there are contrasting textures when you eat it. Best of all, you can make caponata a day ahead.
1. Preheat the oven to the highest possible temperature. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Wash and dry the eggplants, cut off the stems, and remove the skin in alternating strips lengthwise. Cut into ½-inch dice and spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
2. Roast in the oven for 10–15 minutes until tender and golden. You have just saved 2 cups of oil by not frying the eggplants in a skillet! Wash and dry the celery and cut it into ½-inch slices. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the celery, blanch for 2 minutes, and drain.
3. Peel the tomatoes, cut them in half, remove the seeds, and cut the flesh into small dice. Peel the onions and chop them finely. Heat the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 10 minutes). Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes to let the tomatoes cook down. Add the vinegar, sugar, capers or cornichons (if using), eggplant, and celery. Stir and let simmer for several minutes to allow the sauce to thicken and the flavors to blend.
4. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or vinegar as needed—caponata should be intensely flavorful and piquant, but if you’re not a big vinegar fan, there’s no need to add more. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Notes: You can serve caponata as a side for meat, poultry, or fish, but I particularly like it on its own as a starter.
Excerpted from Enjoy: Recipes for Memorable Gatherings by Perla Servan-Schreiber, Flammarion, 2020. Photography by Nathalie Carnet.