Xanthe Clay's Caponata
Soft and slippery, with an complex sweet-savoury-sour flavour, caponata is a sassy Sicilian answer to ratatouille.
It keeps beautifully for two or three days so make double, and eat it with grilled meat or fish the first night, then with other salads for lunch and pile the last spoonfuls on bruschetta to eat with drinks the next day.
Half a cupful of olive oil
1 large aubergine or a few small ones, cut into cubes
2 peppers, deseeded and cut into matchbox sized pieces
a fat clove of garlic, chopped
a bulb of fennel (save the frondy tops) or 6 sticks of celery, sliced
a large onion, sliced
2-3 large, very ripe tomatoes
half a glass of red wine
the juice of half a lemon or 2tbsp red wine vinegar
a handful of green olives, pitted
a few basil leaves
Heat enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. Keep the oil to one side, and add more as necessary while cooking the vegetables.
First cook the aubergine in batches until lightly browned and soft, adding more oil if necessary. Scoop out into a bowl. Repeat with the onions, garlic, and peppers, and finally the fennel or celery.
Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Count to ten, then drain them and run under cold water. Peel off the skins, then squeeze the tomatoes so the seeds squirt out into the bowl. Chop the tomato flesh roughly.
Put the wine and lemon juice or vinegar in the pan with the sugar and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes and cook until they mixture has reduced to a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the cooked vegetables and leave to cool to room temperature.
Before serving, mix in the olives, capers and the basil or the frondy tops of fennel into the mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, sugar, lemon juice, olive oil or pepper if it needs it.
(C) Xanthe Clay