Sunday, July 27, 2014

Caponata: A Stunning Sicilian Specialty

Recipe and Wine Pairing by: Eric Guido

It was the fifth day of a heat wave as I sat contemplating a menu that I had to present only a day later. No matter how good your air conditioner or how little time it takes you to move from the cool confines of your home to the blasting AC of your car, the heat manages to wear you down. I sat there looking at the plants that had shriveled up in the neighbor’s garden, even though they were watered each day, and I felt a sort of empathy for them. What to serve to a party that just wandered in from this heat? Caponata.

As a child, my neighborhood would have been considered Italian to an outsider, but the fact is that its inhabitants did not think of it as Italian. You see, I grew up in a Sicilian neighborhood. The Italian part of my family had come from the central part of the boot and so, even with my Italian roots, my neighbors still managed to surprise me with a cuisine that was not quite like my grandmother’s, yet Italian all the same. On an afternoon, in this summer heat, my neighbors would be making caponata.

Caponata is a vegetarian dish that’s centered on eggplant and fresh harvested vegetables. It’s a celebration of produce and on the palate obtains a melding of fresh, salty and sweet flavors that truly makes it a celebration to your taste buds as well. It is, all at once, satisfying, refreshing and delicious. It’s a dish that can be served cold, room temperature or warm, and it can be an appetizer, side dish or main course. It’s difficult for me to think of another dish that is as versatile as caponata, especially since it can thrill you on a paper plate in the yard as well as served on fine china at the table.

My favorite way to serve caponata is at room temperature as an appetizer. When served at this neutral temperature, the medley of flavors in this dish is on full display. Each ingredient still bears its unique flavors while contributing to the whole.

See below for my tasting note.
As for a wine pairing, I like to go with a wine that can stand up to the vibrant acidity of caponata. Remember that this dish has a sweet and sour profile and could be overwhelming next to a new world-styled wine. However, it’s also a dish that showcases the finessed yet sometimes fragile flavors of fresh vegetables, so it wouldn’t stand up well to a heavy-handed red. Lastly, I want a wine that will augment the flavors of the caponata.  I want Riesling, and the one I'm recommending here will knock your socks off.


Caponata

Serves Four

The most important thing is to use the best quality ingredients. This dish doesn’t mask a thing. Instead, it amplifies the flavors of each ingredient, and that’s part of its magic. Many recipes will tell you to peel the tomatoes, but in this case we’re using grape tomatoes for visual appeal and their bittersweet flavor. You could also use plum or vine tomatoes, in which case you should blanch and peel them.

3 - 4 Italian eggplants, about 2 pounds (or look for a mix of colors; smaller is better)
1 large yellow onion, small dice
4 –5 stalks of celery, large dice
1 pound of grape tomatoes, sliced in half with seeds removed
1 cup green Italian olives, sliced in half with pits removed
2 tbls of capers, rinsed
7 tbls of red wine vinegar
2 tbls of sugar
1 bunch fresh basil
4 tbls Extra Virgin olive oil
salt and pepper as needed
1 loaf Italian bread
grape seed oil (for frying)

Slice the eggplant crosswise into ¾ inch slices. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and a cookie rack. Coat both sides of each eggplant slice generously with salt and place on the rack. The salt will pull the bitter flavors out of the eggplant. Allow the eggplant to sit like this for one hour. Then rinse the eggplant well and dry.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. At the same time, place a large sauté pan over a medium flame and pour enough grape seed oil in to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is hot, place the eggplant into the sauté pan. (Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. You may need to fry the eggplant in two batches.) Fry the eggplant on one side until golden brown and then flip to achieve the same sear on the other side. Once both sides have been cooked, remove from the pan and to drain on paper towels.

Set up a small ice bath. Now place the large dice of celery into the salted boiling water. Blanch for three to four minutes or until the color becomes a deep vibrant green. Pull the celery from the pot and place into the ice bath for no more than one minute. Then drain and set aside.

Cut the eggplant slices into a large dice with a very sharp knife, remember they are soft from being fried and make sure to keep the skin on the eggplant.

At this time you are ready to begin the final assembly of the dish.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Once hot, add the onions and season with a pinch of salt. Allow the onions to cook for three minutes. Now add the olives, tomatoes and celery and stir together. Allow to cook for another five minutes.

Now add the eggplant, capers, vinegar and sugar. Stir the contents of the pan together well and allow to cook for ten minutes.

Taste for seasoning and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Move the entire contents of the pan to a serving dish.

If you are looking for room temperature, allow the dish to sit for up to an hour before serving. For hot temp, allow only ten minutes. Or for cold, place under refrigeration for two to three hours.

No matter what temperature you are aiming for, when ready to serve, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice the Italian bread into ¼ inch slices, brush both sides with Extra Virgin olive oil and place on a parchment-lined baking dish. Put in the oven for five minutes to toast slightly. Chop the fresh basil and add to the caponata; stir to combine.

You can plate this with the toasts on the plate and the caponata. Or serve family style.



2011 Stein St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Spätlese feinherb - Aromas jumped from the glass of this young Riesling, showing ripe pear, peach skins, wet mineral laden stone and hints of lemon. On the palate, there was a yin yang of fruit, acidity and minerality. Grapefruit was foremost with an equal doses of acidity as expected from a bite, note the sprinkle of sugar on top. Ripe peach flavor and weight added balance, along with gorgeous saline minerals, which poured out as the mouth began to water. The finish made the cheeks pucker with slight lemon pith, hints of fresh honeycomb and inner floral notes. To say i enjoyed this wine would be an understatement. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

1 comment:

  1. Terrific post Eric on one of my favorite dishes. While I love Reisling, I never thought to pair it with caponata. I will have to try It.

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