There must be hundreds of recipes for Caponata. The dish originates from Sicily and should contain (at least, we think so) eggplant (aubergine), celery and vinegar. Sugar is often added to enhance the sweetness and intensity. Nowadays it’s often a combination with tomatoes, shallot, capers, olives and perhaps raisins, pine nuts, oregano and basil. The flavour of caponata should be slightly bitter (the eggplant) with a touch of sweetness (sugar, onion), acidity and saltiness (celery). The texture should be moist, but not sauce-like. We love to enhance the flavours by adding mushrooms. And since we’re not keen on using sugar, we make sure the onions bring sufficient sweetness.
Enjoy your caponata as an appetizer, for instance with some crusted bread or bruschetta. A nice glass of white wine or rosé will be perfect with it. It’s also great as a side dish, with fish or even merguez.
Whatever the combination, caponata must be made one day ahead.
What You Need
200 grams of Mushrooms (preferably a mix with Shiitake)
1 Red Onion
1 Garlic Clove
1 cm Red Chilli Pepper
2 tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar
What You Do
Wash the eggplant and slice. We slice the eggplant lengthwise in 8 and then we slice these strips. Salt them generously, transfer to a sieve and allow to drain for one or two hours. The more liquid they lose, the better! Rinse the eggplant with cold water and dry them with a kitchen cloth. Fry the aubergine in a heavy iron skillet until nicely golden brown. Set aside. Slice the red onion, clean and chop the mushrooms. Chop the garlic and the chilli pepper finely. Add some olive oil to the pan and fry the onion. Remove and set aside. Now fry the mushrooms. After 5 minutes or so add the garlic and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the mushrooms and the eggplant to the pan. Add chopped parsley and celery. Mix well. Add two spoons of white wine vinegar and leave on low heat for 10 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Keep in the refrigerator for the next day.
Alice Waters’ restaurant is called Chez Panisse, which is also the title of her Menu Cookbook, published in 1982. The book is centred around menu’s, emphasising the importance of combing dishes to create a balanced dinner or lunch. In the introduction she describes how as a child she wanted fresh green beans and charcoal-grilled steaks every birthday dinner. And how she would sit out in the strawberry patch, happily eating fresh berries. In 1963 at the age of 19 she went to France for a year, to eat. Back in Berkeley her love for food transformed in opening her restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971.
In the chapter What I Believe About Cooking she writes as American chef and activist. She discusses how the US as a nation is removed from any real involvement with food and how the US people (and probably many more) are alienated by frozen and hygienically sealed food. She writes: ”Food should be experienced through the senses.” And also: “… we have been indoctrinated into believing that by making food preparation easier and less time-consuming, we’re gaining valuable free time. No mention is ever made of what we lose by this whittling away at our direct contact with food or what better things we might do with the time thus gained.” We couldn’t agree more! There is so much fun and love in buying, cooking and enjoying food. Sit down, take your time, and talk about food, wine and life.
One of our favourites from Chez Panisse is her eggplant soup with dots of red bell pepper. Not difficult to prepare and a joy to eat and serve. The taste is rich yet light, fresh and uplifting. The combination of egg plant, garlic and red onions plus bell pepper works very well, probably because both are charred. Use vegetable stock and you will have a great vegetarian starter.
Other titles by Alice Waters include We Are What We Eat (A Slow Food Manifesto) published in 2021, The Art Of Simple Food (I and II) and My Pantry (2015). (Audio) Books are available via your local bookstore, the well known channels and Chez Panisse.
Think summer vegetables, think Ratatouille! Which is also the title of a film released in 2007 about a rat called Remy with a passion for cooking. If you want to see how he prepares ratatouille then simply go to YouTube (or buy the DVD if you’re old fashioned like us). Ratatouille brings back memories of summer, of the South of France, of the Mediterranean. It combines very well with a simple sausage, with lamb, with grilled chicken. However you prepare your ratatouille, be sure to prepare it a day ahead. The taste becomes much more integrated after a day (or two) in the refrigerator. Unfortunately it doesn’t freeze well due to the eggplant.
Our recipe is very much the recipe of a dear friend. She taught us how to make ratatouille in her summer kitchen, overlooking the pool and the garden with herbs and vegetables. Indeed, fond memories. To our surprise she added cilantro (you would expect thyme or basil) and many years later we are still grateful for this twist. The cilantro enhances the feeling of summer and it supports the various vegetables in a beautiful way.
We enjoyed our ratatouille with a glass of simple, red wine with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy with subtle tannins. A wine that brings summer to your glass.
What You Need (4 people)
1 Eggplant or Aubergine
1 Courgette or Zucchini
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Chili Pepper
4 Excellent Tomatoes
What You Do
Start by cutting the aubergine in small but not too small chunks. Drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for a few hours, allowing for the aubergine to loose water and become firm. Best way to do this is by putting the aubergine in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl. The tomatoes require some attention as well. You could peel them, but that’s optional. What is not optional is to separate the tomato meat and juices from the pits. First step is to remove the internal hard bits and the pits and put these aside. You now have the outer part of the tomato, which you can slice. Cut the remainder of the tomatoes roughly, add to a sieve and by using the back of a spoon make sure you capture the juices. Be surprised about the volume of tomato juice and the small amount of tomato bits and pits that remain in your sieve.
Cut the bell pepper into long slices and fry these in the pan with olive oil. Peel the courgette, slice in the way you sliced the aubergine and add to the pan. Continue frying. Add the finely chopped chilli pepper (not the seeds of course). Add the firm aubergine after having removed the remaining salt with water. After a few moments add the tomato chunks, fry a bit more, add the tomato juice and leave on low to medium heat for 60 minutes. Try not to stir too much; otherwise you risk creating mashed vegetables. Cool, set aside and store in the refrigerator. The next day: if you have excess liquid, remove the vegetables from the liquid, reduce it until thickened and transfer the vegetables back into the pan. Otherwise gently warm the ratatouille, add some chopped cilantro, mix gently and add more cilantro just before serving.