Whenever I cook, I often reach for my cookbooks and scan them for ideas. I look at several versions of the same recipe and then approach it in my way. It’s very rare that I will follow someone else’s recipe exactly.
Last weekend, I was at a friend’s house on the Jersey shore and decided to replicate Mario Batali’s Caponata.
- 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons currants
- 1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
- 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 5 sprigs mint, chopped
- 1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven
In a large 12 to 14-inch sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until softened
Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve the caponata spooned on crostini or in middle of table with crostini on side to allow guests to help themselves.
Basic tomato sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Yield: 4 cups