As someone of German heritage, I have a profound love of homemade Italian food that belies my upbringing. Perhaps it was due to my exposure to Italian cuisine that involved a box containing a tin of sauce, a bundle spaghetti, and cheese that was shaken out of a green canister? I grew up thinking that Italian was okay, but nothing special. But boy did that change after post-college friends introduced me to homemade polenta, creamy risotto, and melt-in-your-mouth caponata.
Secretly, I believe that I am Italian, but there was a mix up at the hospital and a nice German couple took me home instead. (Never mind that I have my mom’s nose, my dad’s cheeks, and I look just like my siblings.)
When I want to prepare something special for friends and family, I turn to homemade Italian food. To me, it is comfort food. Warm. Filling. Satisfying. Delicious. But regardless of what I prepare, the key is to use fresh ingredients.
Caponata is something that I was introduced to later in life. A friend made it for me and when I asked about a recipe, I was told, “Oh… just use some eggplant, tomatoes, onion, and celery. There are some other things you can toss in and be sure to sauté in olive oil”. This one simple dish represents the flavors of a late summer garden. For me, it is a great way to use eggplant, something that tends to get neglected when mealtime rolls around.
- 1/2 C. olive oil
- 2 medium Italian eggplant, stemmed
- 4 large tomatoes, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 C. golden raisins
- 1/3 C. green olives, sliced
- 1/4 C. pine nuts
- salt, to taste
Slice eggplant in half horizontally. Place cut side up on a baking tray. Score the flesh with a knife and drizzle with olive oil (2 tbl.). Roast in a 400F oven for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin from the eggplant. Dice eggplant flesh into uniform pieces.
Meanwhile, place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot, add onion, celery, and tomatoes. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Toss in garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add eggplant, green olives, and raisins. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. By this time, the raisins should plump slightly from the juice of the tomatoes and olive oil.
While the veggies are doing their thing in the sauté pan, place pine nuts on small baking sheet. Roast in a 400F oven for 5- 6 minutes or until the nuts are golden in color. Remove from oven and pour nuts into a separate container (so they will not continue to ‘bake’ on the baking sheet). NOTE: it does not take very long for pine nuts to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on them, otherwise, you may burn them.
Season to taste with salt. Add pine nuts and stir to combine.
This dish is good served either hot or cold. We enjoy putting this on slices of good, crusty Italian bread or crackers. It is also lovely on polenta or just as a side dish on its own.
The flavor continues to improve the following day. So friends, share your love of Italian by cooking something homemade and from the heart.