When the weather changes from bitter cold to mild, spring flowers begin to bloom and the sun starts to break through the grey sky, it's time to get back outside to work in the garden. The work is long, can be back breaking and is the most satisfying of any.
Cleaning off the cobwebs from the garden tools, turning over the soil, planting, raking and fixing all of the things broken by winter's winds and harsh weather builds an appetite in me like no other. Of course, it's nearly impossible to immerse myself in these projects and prepare a meal that can satiate this appetite. Thankfully there are delicious antipastos and tapas that can be easily prepared and are even better after allowing to meld for a day or two. Caponata is one of my favorite of these antipastos! Recipes vary as with most cultural cuisines. I made mine without pine nuts (because my husband "thinks" he doesn't like them) or parsley (because I did not have any). Some times it can be made with only roasted red peppers and no melanzane (aubergines or eggplant). However, regardless of the recipe you choose to prepare, there is no doubt it will be savoured, satisfying and filling.
2 medium melanzane
2 large Romano red peppers, diced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 firm but ripe Italian tomatoes, peeled and diced
12 black olives (I used olives stuffed with chili), sliced in half
2 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 cloves garlic
6-8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup very good quality balsamic vinegar
smoked sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
In a deep cast iron pan heat the olive oil. Cube the melanzane and fry in the hot oil until browned and soft. Remove the melanzane and set aside. Add the peppers to the pan and sauté until soft then return the melanzane to the pan. Add the onions and tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the capers and olives and cook for a minute to two before adding the vinegar. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer to a glass jar and allow flavors to meld in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably one to two days.
What I love about this recipe is that when you first try it you are initially hit with a spicy, salty, balsamic vinegar flavor. Then slowly the individual flavors of the ingredients begin to show. You can pick out the melanzana and sweet pepper as much as the capers and olives. It is a complex antipasto best served with a warm focaccia or crusty sour dough bread and a variety of cheeses. My favorite cheese with this is Embriago, a semi-hard, fruity cheese. Of course Taleggio or even a soft Gorgonzola would pair wonderfully with this as well.
I enjoyed my caponata with a crisp, fruity glass of 2008 Chapel Down Flint Dry. It is a nice dry wine with enough fruity flavor to break through the complexity of flavors of this amazing antipasto!