What does it taste like? Sweet and sour with the aroma of garlic and celery hovering in the background. It’s chunky because the vegetables should not be overcooked.
And then there’s the light crunch with every mouthful because you have nuts in there too. Pine nuts traditionally go into caponata. But it’s a headache finding pine nuts in my part of the world. Pistachio, on the other hand, is not only my husband’s favorite nut, it has also become accessible lately.
Before you start the actual cooking, you have to prep the dressing and the nuts. Soak raisins in red wine vinegar (that’s why caponata is sweet and sour) and toast the pistachio in an oil-free pan.
Now, the cooking begins. Heat olive oil in a pan, spread diced onion and leave to sweat for a while. Add garlic and oregano, and cook until the onion bits starts to brown along the edges before adding the celery, salt and pepper. Continue cooking to soften the celery a bit.
Stir in your eggplants, cook for five minutes then throw in the tomatoes and bell pepper. Stir and cook for another five minutes. The vegetables are cooked through at this point. Do not be tempted to cook longer. The eggplant pieces may appear a bit undercooked but remember that they will continue to soften in the residual heat.
With the heat off, pour in the vinegar with the raisins and the pistachio, and lightly stir everything. Now let the vegetables soak in the sweetish vinegar for a minimum of 30 minutes. That’s how caponata develops the best flavor. To prevent the vegetables from turning soggy, cover loosely during this stage to allow the vegetables to come to room temperature.
- ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ⅓ cup pistachio nuts
- ¼ cup olive oil - doesn’t have to be extra virgin
- 1 onion - diced
- 3 cloves garlic - peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 rib celery - cut into ¼-inch thick slices
- 1 generous pinch dried oregano
- 2 to 3 eggplants - diced
- 2 to 3 bell peppers - deseeded and diced
- 3 to 4 tomatoes - diced
- sweet basil leaves - thinly sliced
- Place the raisins in a bowl and pour in the red wine vinegar. Set aside.
- In an oil-free pan, toast the pistachio until lightly browned and aromatic. Set aside to cool.
- Set a wide frying pan on the stove over medium-low heat and heat the olive oil.
- Spread the diced onion on the bottom of the pan and cook without disturbing for a few minutes. Stir.
- Add the garlic and oregano. Continue cooking with occasional stirring until the edges of the onion bits start to brown.
- Throw in the sliced celery. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for a minute.
- Add the diced eggplants. Sprinkle in more salt and pepper. Stir. Cover the pan and cook for about five minutes.
- Next, add the bell peppers and tomatoes. Sprinkle in salt and pepper once more. Stir. Cover the pan again and cook for five minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Pour in the red wine vinegar with the raisins. Stir. Taste. If the flavors seem unbalanced, the dish might benefit from more salt and pepper.
- Add the pistachio and stir.
- Cover the pan loosely (a vent will prevent the vegetables from continuing to cook in the residual heat) and allow the flavors of the caponata to develop for about 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle sliced basil over the caponata and serve.