Published July 1, 2008.
This sweet and sour eggplant relish from Sicily provides a great complement to meat or fish—but not if the vegetables are mushy and the flavors out of balance.
Eggplant is the star of caponata, but it's essentially a sponge, ready to absorb anything, and it's packed with water. This one-two punch transforms the eggplant into oil-soaked mush before it has a chance to caramelize.
We defined great caponata as a perfectly-balanced mélange of stewed vegetables—eggplant, celery, onion, red pepper, and tomato—augmented by the bolder flavors and textures of such Mediterranean stalwarts as capers, anchovies, olives, raisins, and pine nuts.
First we needed to dehydrate the eggplant, but the traditional salting method didn't sufficiently dry it out. Combining salting and microwaving did work—after we put a few disposable coffee filters under the eggplant to keep it from poaching in its leached-out liquid. The eggplant (now reduced to a third its original size) could be sautéed in a much smaller amount of oil (1 tablespoon vs. nearly 1/2 cup). The eggplant plumped up nicely when added back to the other vegetables to stew, absorbing these other flavors instead of just oil. Introducing an intense tomato flavor was also a challenge. Adding the tomatoes at the very end of cooking to preserve their bright freshness was a partial solution, and a small amount of V8 juice really topped off the tomato flavor. Finally, we challenged several contestants to contribute the sweet and sour finish that distinguishes caponata from other vegetable dishes like ratatouille; brown sugar and red wine vinegar won.list of recipes