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Like Caponata for Chocolate

“Tita was the last link in a chain of cooks who had been passing culinary secrets from generation to generation since ancient times, and she was considered the finest exponent of the marvelous art of cooking”.

From the Novel Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

Josefita de la Garza – a.k.a. Tita, Like Water for Chocolate’s main character,  always put passion  in her kitchen. When people asked her what was the secret to her great recipes, she used to say: “I cooked them with love”. She not only kept her family’s traditional recipes, but treasured and mastered them to perfection like her  famous and delicious mole sauce.

In Sicily,  Eggplant Caponata means to Sicilians what mole sauce meant for Tita – a well kept secret. And the one thing caponata and mole have in common is… chocolate.

Yep, You read that right! To my astonishment, I found that in some areas of Sicily Caponata is  either paired with a chocolate sauce named San Bernardo or just sprinkled with bitter dark chocolate. This method of pairing chocolate and caponata is very common in  Sicily’s eastern cost,  specially within Catania and Siracusa provinces.

As for most traditional Italian dishes, there isn’t a unique recipe for preparing Caponata di Melanzane (or Melenzane as some Sicilians name eggplants). There exist tons of recipes for Caponata throughout Sicily – from east to west!

Some recipes include pistachios, others almonds. In certain areas of Sicily, some cooks add anchovies or sweet peppers; some use pine nuts and raisins (some recipes even have hard eggs!!). The possible combinations are endless, thus not even two  caponatas are the same within a small area of “x” squared kilometers in Sicily.

In my case, I was literally becoming “nuts” whether to use pistachios, almonds, or pine nuts in the caponata recipe I was planning to prepare. After scrolling down Sicilian sites pages, buying a recipe book in Sicily, and after watching chef  Alessandro Borghese’s brilliant tv program in Real Time Tv; I finally came up with my Caponata di Melanzane recipe…with Chocolate!!

Caponata di Melanzane al Cacao

Ingredients

  •  1 kg or 35 ounces of eggplants (about 6 elongated or japanese eggplants)
  •  2 white onions
  •  2 celery stalks
  • 170 grams or 6 ounces of black olives (about a cup)
  • 750 grams or 26 ounces of ripe plum tomatoes
  • 3 – 4  tablespoons of Pantelleria Capers preserved in salt.
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins (sultanas)
  • 1 /2 – 1 cup of wine vinegar
  • 2 -3 tablespoons of sugar
  • bitter cocoa powder or shredded extra dark fine chocolate (optional)
  • some basil sprigs
  •  olive oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Method

Cut eggplants into 1 1/2 cm cubs. Sprinkle eggplant with salt and leave them for 1 hour. Dice onions and celery finely. Pit black olives with your hands and remove salt from capers

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in skillet over moderately high heat, then cook onion, stirring, until pale and translucent, about 30 – 40 minutes.

Squeeze eggplants with your hands to drain excess liquid. This is important since squeezing eggplants will prevent them from absorbing too much oil.

Heat olive oil in skillet over moderately high heat, then fry eggplants, stirring, until golden. Transfer eggplants to paper towel to drain excess oil.

Gorgeous looking fried eggplants.

In a pot boil water over medium high heat,  and add 1/2 cup of vinegar,  celery, capers, and olives. Boil for about 8-10 minutes. If you are not fond of vinegar, you can use less  if you want.

In a large pot boil water and blanch tomatoes for about 5 minutes. Once blanched, tomatoes are passed through a hand-held vegetable mill.

Add some basil sprigs to the sauce resulting from passing tomatoes.

Add tomato sauce to the skillet containing onions. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook over low heat  – or simmer –  until tomato sauce thickens – about 30-40 minutes.

Add celery, capers and olives to tomato sauce and onions mixture. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of vinegar (or less if you prefer) and sugar.

Blend well!!!

Add fried eggplants, pine nuts, and raisins.

Blend well and add salt and pepper if needed.

A closer look at the mixture of ingredients.

Let it stand, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature, overnight for flavors to develop.

A close up of the dish.

So this is “classic” caponata. However, I dared to add sprinkled cocoa powder, and this is what I came up with.

I used two round pasta cutters: one big and one small. I placed the small pasta cutter  inside, and attached to a corner of the bigger one. I wanted to create a sort of half-moon figure.

After pressing down the mixture, I then took off the round cutters and added a basil sprig.

I finished the dish by sprinkling over some bitter cocoa powder.

After tasting the final dish, I have to say that the sweet and sour taste of caponata with the bitterness of cocoa was really exquisite! You can also try shaved or shredded dark bitter chocolate on top.

Dare to try it!!!

Serves 8 – 10.

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. You are reading my mind – I was on the verge of asking you for a recipe for caponata. Do you know of a round stale bread “biscuit”, often with a hole in the middle like an ancient coin, that caponata was placed on. One used to have to soak it with some oil and vinegar before placing the caponata on it. I remember this from Italian friends in London, but I cannot remember what they are called in order to search for them.

    July 13, 2011
    • I can only think of “friselle”- Google it and search for images!!

      July 13, 2011
  2. This looks amazing – love the book too by the way, it was the first book I ever read from cover to cover in Spanish, so it holds a special place in my heart! Have never used chocolate or cocoa in my caponata, but will take your recommendation and give it a go. The photos are stunning – where did you take them?

    July 13, 2011
    • Thank you!!! I took the photos in my parents in law country house in Umbria!

      July 13, 2011
  3. Your step by step photos and descriptions are beautifully down. I’ve always salted my eggplant, rinsed and drained, but learned a new trick to squeeze the eggplant! My father made his with pine nuts and raisins. I must try this with chocolate! And by the way, I love the background, the dishes you used, it’s all so perfect!

    July 13, 2011
    • Thank you!! Squeezing eggplants is also a new trick to me!! I got the tip on a Sicilian Cookbook!!

      July 13, 2011
  4. What a fascinating recipe, it looks wonderful. Love the step by step photos and that outdoor table, very nice.

    July 13, 2011
    • Sicilian food is fascinating!! I literally went crazy with all the exotic mixture of flavors in this wonderful island!

      July 13, 2011
  5. This sounds and looks wonderful – I’m going to try it. We have so many aubergines in the garden at the moment. I love them and I’m trying to find different ways of using them all. I made parmigiana di melanzane today, an old favourite. I had foie gras with chocolate and sweet wine sauce in French Catalonia recently and it worked really well. I loved the book and the film of ‘Like water…. too.

    PS it seems I say ‘pine kernels’ and you say ‘pine nuts’ – same thing!

    July 13, 2011
    • Now I get it!! Thanks for the clarification! Foie gras with chocolate sounds delicious!!!

      July 13, 2011
  6. I came here because of your “chain letter” reply. This dish is absolutely incredible! I stayed about a week in Taormina, sampled caponata there, but do not recall tasting chocolate. Too bad. Thank you for sharing this interesting recipe.

    August 14, 2011
    • Thank you!! chocolate and caponata is a very particular pairing, which I discovered through a friend from Catania whose mother runs a catering business.

      August 14, 2011
  7. Fantastic looking dish! Loved that novel and the film!

    September 25, 2011
    • I think it is a great and inspiring book

      September 26, 2011

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