Agrodolce for short. Sweet and sour eggplant made crunchy with celery and salty with capers. A perfect appetizer OR a side dish OR a condiment to top simply cooked fish or grilled bread. I’ve tried lots of ways of making caponata, some with eggplant alone and some with zucchini. I call this one “grande” because it’s so generous, a large batch full of ingredients that meld as they marinate. The full recipe satisfies a large picnic and can be made well ahead and kept for weeks as leftovers.
The origin of this recipe is improbable, and so memorable that I think about it every time we approach Labor Day weekend. I heard the recipe years ago during an interview on – of all places – the Food Network. It was the first time I ever watched the Food Network and embarrassingly the first time I turned the TV on by myself. Don’t laugh. I felt stranded at home when other family members took a nearly cross-country trip to a soccer tournament. I typically would have gone along but it was too far away to take dogs so I stayed home with missions in mind. I was surprised at the sudden silence in our normally noisy household and a little bored cleaning our studio when I decided to turn on the radio or the TV to keep me company. I listen to radio all the time so I thought I’d venture with TV, expecting some sporting event. And there was the Food Network interviewing a grandfatherly man named Mariano Orlando who was bragging about his Sicilian caponata. With all the ingredients on hand, I made it at once. Awesome, just what I wanted and, once fine-tuned to my liking, an annual ritual. Grazie Mariano.
The caponata starts with uniformly diced yellow summer squash, green zucchini and unpeeled eggplant that are individually sautéed in olive oil and set aside, Combined with slowly sautéed onions and garlic, the medley is doused with reduced red wine vinegar and a little sugar (the agrodolce), bound with tomato sauce and roasted peppers, enlivened by crunchy celery, capers and kalamata-type olives, and made salad-like with abundant fresh oregano and parsley. When making this in advance, which I nearly always do, I hold off adding the capers, olives and herbs until an hour or so before serving.
Caponata Agrodolce adapted from Mariano Orlando, Food Network
3 medium eggplants, skin on, cut into small dice (1/3 inch)
3 small green zucchini, cut into small dice (1/3 inch)
3 small yellow squash, cut into small dice (1/3 inch) – I used bright yellow squash vs crookneck, which is too soft
2 yellow onions, cut into small dice (1/4 inch)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼-½ c olive oil
1½ c red wine vinegar
2 tbsp granulated white cane sugar
1 c roasted red peppers in ½-inch dice
½ c tomato sauce
½ c capers
¼ c black kalamata-type olives, cut in ¼-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
Prepare all of the vegetables and set aside. Heat some of the olive oil in a large side heavy pan and, over medium high heat, saute the eggplant in one-layer batches, removing each to a platter. Add olive oil as needed. Repeat with the zucchini, yellow squash and onions, adding garlic near the end of cooking the onions. Set aside and keep warm.
In the meanwhile, make the “agrodolce.” Combine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until reduced by half, 3-5 minutes.
While the vegetables are still warm, stir in the roasted red peppers and pour the vinegar mixture over the top. Stir to combine thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato sauce and set aside to mellow, at least an hour before serving but up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
The day you’re serving this, bring to room temperature (this takes a few hours), stir in the celery, capers, olives and herbs, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 10-12 as a side dish, many more as part of a buffet.