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
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.
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.
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.