Sicilian cuisine has some dishes which are very different to anything you will find on mainland Italy. One of the reasons for this is the enduring Arabic influence that has survived over a thousand years from the days of the Emirate of Sicily. Amongst the ingredients that the Arabs brought to the country’s cookery were raisins and aubergines and these feature in that very Sicilian dish, caponata. The strong flavours here would pair well with the Sicilian Nero d’Avola wines from Poggio di Bortolone and Vigna Nica. Alternatively, try a youngish Chianti or light but fruity Rosso di Montalcino.
Everyone has their favoured recipe for this iconic dish but we think the absolute best is from @rachelaliceroddy.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 kg aubergines cut into cubes
4 celery stalks
Black olives, pitted
1 red onion, thickly sliced
200 ml tomato passata
75g raisins (we’re quite generous with these because we like the contrast between sweet and savoury)
50 ml red wine vinegar
Pine nuts (optional)
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based frying pan until hot. Fry the aubergine in batches until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.
Trim the celery stalks and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add the celery to a pan of boiling water and cook for about five minutes. Drain and cool. If the capers are salted, soak for 2 minutes and drain. If brined or in vinegar, drain and rinse.
In a large, deep frying pan warm 4 tbsp oil over medium-low heat, add the onion and cook for a few minutes. If you like your onions more caramelised then sprinkle them with a little salt to draw out the moisture. Add the tomato passata and cook for a few minutes. Don’t add too much tomato - this is not a tomato-based dish and the tomato shouldn’t overwhelm the other ingredients. Stir in the capers, olives, raisins and pine nuts.
Make a well in the middle of the pan and add the sugar and vinegar, allowing the sugar to dissolve in the heat. Stir and cook for a few minutes and check whether you need more sugar or vinegar. Turn off the heat, add the aubergines and celery and rip the basil leaves into the mix. Stir gently.
Leave to sit for a few hours. Ideally, this should be served at room temperature.