In this way Vincenzo Mortillaro, Marquis of Villarena, in his New Sicilian-Italian Dictionary of 1853 tells us the origin of the caponata, the one with fish (best known as with swordfish or octopus) and the later introduction of vegetables. They are artichokes (cacocciuli) in winter and aubergines (milinciani) in summer, not to mention the variants that include peppers (pipi). It tells us the baronial cuisine of the Monsù and the ingenious popular cusine.
Capunata – a sort of delicacy with fish, peppers, artichokes, and other seasonings, to eat mostly cold, or between courses, or as torna-gusto, or after hot dishes. Tasty delicacy.Nuovo Dizionario siciliano-italiano. Vincenzo Mortillaro (1853)
The dish is called a torna-gusto dish, because during the big aristocratic lunches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was offered between one course and the other to clean and refresh the palate. This function was entrusted to a sauce that constituted the essence of the dish: a bittersweet sauce.
The Caponata and the bittersweet
It is an ancient flavor that narrates not only history and gastronomy, but also dietary science: the logic of temperament for opposites and conservation methods.
The Latin doctors said that“opposites are healed with the opposites” and even in the kitchen it was essential to achieve a balance. Each food had to be combined with another of opposite quality, to compensate the nature of each food. In this way, poor cuisine prevailed over hunger: it discovered how to stop the course of time by preserving food for longer.
Vinegar and sugar (and more generally citrus fruits and sugars) are excellent preservatives. For this reason the bittersweet must be eaten at least after a day of rest, of settling, I like to say. Besides, as the days go by, it gets better and better.
Grandmothers and aunts are true teachers of caponata, with which they have always delighted the palates of my greedy family. An ancient recipe, that at the table of Nuzza&Ddia we propose with joy and emotion.
Ingredients (for 4 p.)
- 2 black aubergines
- 1 a celery heart of at least 50gr
- 80 g of green pitted olives, cut in thick slices, or cut for the long
- 40 g of salted capers
- 1 big white onion
- 25 g of tomatoes extract (astrattu)
- Half a cup of tomato sauce (If you prefer you can use peeled preserves, I like the creaminess of the sauce. If you want a more red caponata abound according to your taste, remembering however that the astrattu is salty )
- ½ glass of evo oil
- Salt and pepper (as needed)
- 50 g of toasted and ground almonds
- 20 g of extra dark grated chocolate
How to make bittersweet sauce?
First of all, everyone has their own recipe, who likes agre and who likes it sweeter. Moreover, just following the logic of correction and balance, let us remember that every food has its own degree of sweetness. For example, the pumpkin compared to aubergines is very sweet, I can think of the red pumpkin in sweet and sour (u’ficatu ri sette cannola). The sauce can not be the same for all dishes, just practice will help you find the right bittersweet.
For this recipe, and with these doses, I like it this way:
- 70ml of white vinegar
- 30 g of sugar
First, desalt capers and olives at least four hours before starting the preparation. Just store them in a container with cold water that must be changed every hour.
Then, prepare the aubergines. Cut them into large cubes, sprinkle with salt and put them in a colander. In this way they will lose their bitterness (the vegetation liquid) and if you put a weight on it you will accelerate this osmotic process. Leave them like this for at least 40 minutes.
Now spread the aubergines on a cloth and place another on top. This operation will dry them and make your frying perfect, as long as the oil is hot. After that, transfer them into a large salad bowl.
Clean the celery, cut into pieces not too big and blanch. As soon as it is cooked, add the olives and capers for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and pour in the ingredients, but keep the cooking water. Dilute the extract with a glass of hot water and dilute the sugar with the vinegar.
It’s time to make the onion. Peel and slice the onion and put it in a pan with the rest of the oil, fry it and continue cooking helping with the broth made from celery. When the onion is well cooked but not too much, add the celery with olives and capers, the extract and the tomato puree. Stir, cook a few minutes and then blend with the bittersweet sauce. Remove from the heat. Be careful: the onion should not be dry or watery, but moist and creamy to the right point.
At this point make the caponata: pour the hot preparation on the aubergines and mix gently. Add the chocolate, some almonds and pine nuts and stir again.
Sprinkle with the remaining dried fruit. At this point wait patiently for the torna-gusto rest: serve the caponata the next day at room temperature. You’ll see, it will return the desire to taste it in every way.
Buon appetito in the sign of ancient tradition and family warmth.