I read many different recipes and I learned several things about this eggplant dish. First, definitely everyone makes it the best way they know how and that’s usually the way they learned to make it, However, I knew a few things: I knew that while I am completely okay with frying eggplant the authentic way that it’s totally cool if you’d like to just roast or sauté it. I wanted to stick to a core list of ingredients — eggplant, onion, celery, tomato, red bell pepper, capers, green olives, raisins, basil and pine nuts — because while you can add a whole lot of things such as zucchini, green pepper etc.— I had a hunch there’s enough going on in the flavor department with the core list that it wouldn’t need much more to taste good. Trust me it will taste so ymmmy.
Adapted, from SAVEUR
Toss your eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or two of coarse salt in a colander and let it sit/drain for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Press out as much extra liquid as you can, then spread the eggplant out on a paper towels to dry it as well as possible before continuing with the frying step. Then feel free to tell me what I’m missing.
If you cannot bear to use canned crushed tomatoes when fresh ones are so good (I purchase it usually organic from Trader Joe’s), feel free to chop your own plum tomatoes very well until you reach 1 cup. I peeled mine first and squeezed out most of the seeds for a more canned-like texture.
Little olive oil to deep fry (trying to be healthy and not do deep fry)
2 pound eggplant, cut into 1″ cubes
1 large yellow or sweet-variety onion, chopped medium-small
1 to 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced 2 roasted Red Bell Pepper peeled and diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1⁄4 cup water
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes (or use fresh, see directions up top)
6 ounces (about 1 cup) green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup white wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup golden raisins (I used half for a less sweet caponata)
1⁄4 cup salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (I used 1 tablespoon, but sweeter is more traditional)
1⁄2 cup finely slivered basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted until golden and cooled
In a large skillet (12 inches is ideal), heat oil over medium-high heat. Once very hot, working in batches, fry eggplant cubes in one layer at a time, stirring and turning occasionally until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to drain eggplant over skillet, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and immediately season with salt. Repeat with remaining eggplant. Transfer drained and mostly cooled eggplant to a large bowl.
Pour off all but 3 tablespoons olive oil, and reserve the rest for another use. Cook onions and and celery with salt and pepper over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add tomato paste and water and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add crushed tomatoes; cook for 10 minutes. Stir in bell pepper, olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to bowl with eggplant, along with basil and pine nuts, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and let cool to room temperature before serving.
Note Do ahead: If you have time to spare, covering your cooling bowl of caponata with plastic and letting it sit for at least 2 hours gives an even more developed flavor. It’s even better on the second day. Keep it in the fridge and bring it out an hour before you plan to eat it to take the chill off. Caponata keeps for one week in the fridge.