Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sicilian style vegetable medley - Caponatina di verdure miste (SICILY)

Sicilian cooking is unique amongst the various italian regional styles for its distinctive north african influences. This dish features this in its unique sweet-and-sour character. 'Caponata' is a classic sicilian dish that uses seasonal vegetables (most often eggplant -melanzane, particularly tasty in the region) and red wine vinegar. Below is my take on it, the main difference from 'classical' recipies is the cooking method, I stir-fry the vegetables separatly to produce a crispy exterior and to maintain their individuality so that every bite offers a new and interesting flavor. This dish works best after a trip to the local farmer's market in the summer: I think of it every time I get across just picked, local eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers etc.

Preparation: cube the eggplant and fry it on high heat in small batches until crispy (3-4 min), sprinkle with salt and set aside. Process the zucchini the same way, set aside. Lower the heat and add to the same pan 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced, 2-3 garlic cloves and a couple of dry italian peperoncini (fiery hot red chilis). Once the onion is soft and translucent, add the bell peppers cut in slivers and let them cook until just soft (5-10 min). Set aside the pepper/onion/garlic mixture as well. De-glaze the bottom of the pan with a 1/2 glass of white wine, add 3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar and cook the sauce down until sirupy.

At this point you should taste the sauce carefully and adjust the sweet-sour level to your taste. Traditional recipes might occasionally add raisins steeped in water at this point, I prefer dried black currants (avaiable in stores that carry 'persian' goods). Finally, place all the vegetables back in the pot and toss to coat with the sauce, adjust the salt level, and finish with fresh basil leaves (growing on every self respecting italian's balcony) and a few drops of good olive
oil. The caponata is good either hot or cold.

Buon appetito!

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