I always thought that there should be a place where family recipes can be shared. What’s old is new again and over time the dishes and recipes of our grandparents and parents have become lost in our busy lives . I myself have a long tradition of cooking Italian. I’m sure each person can name a number of dishes that they remember eating as a child. Or that special comfort food that Grandma used to prepare. In the passing of generations these dishes have become lost or forgotten. I hope to bring you a host of recipes that I grew up enjoying. Maybe some might sound familiar. Maybe your family prepared it a little different. But in all, what ever came out of Grandma’s kitchen was warm and comforting. I dedicate this blog to Grandma Lili Verga and to her constant love and affection. And to the way she always showed it by saying, “MANGIA FIGIU MIA!, MANGIA!
I’m second generation Italian. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in an area called Bensonhurst. I was raised by two Italian mothers – my mother and grandmother. We lived in a two family house that my grandparents owned. I always enjoyed two dinners growing up. When I finished what my mother cooked I would always run upstairs to see what Grandma was preparing and she would always put another plate on the table and pleaded for me to “mangia”.
My father was a carpenter and my grandfather had his own butcher shop a block away from where we lived. We would have huge family gatherings for the holidays that were celebrated in the basement of our home. That was the only room large enough to hold a table that my father would fabricate to accommodate all the Aunts ,Uncles and cousins that would show up for the feast. And it was a feast that would always end with a card game as we cracked nuts, ate fruit, drank wine and listened to the elders argue over whose town in Sicily was more beautiful. These are my roots.
So to get started I would like to share a recipe that is a long standing tradition of Sicilian cooking and my grandmother – Caponata – or as we used to call it – caponatina – a mixture of eggplant, onions, celery, capers and pine nuts in a savory sweet/sour sauce of tomatoes.
- Two Large Eggplant
- 1/2 pound of green olives packed in brine and pitted
- 6 stalks of celery, strip the filaments(strings) from the celery sticks
- 2 large onions
- 1 – 14.5 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes with juice
- 1 – 15 oz can of tomato sauce
- 6 oz of capers, rinsed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
- 2-4 tablespoons of sugar
- olive oil
- kosher salt
Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Cut the rounds in quarters. Place the cut eggplant into a strainer and sprinkle each layer liberally with salt. Let them sit, covered with a plate, for at least an hour.
While the eggplant is sitting, blanch the celery sticks in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Cut the celery sticks into bite sized pieces.
Rinse away the salt from the eggplant and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel. Fry them in small batches in a light olive oil till they are golden brown. Place the cooked eggplant on paper towels to absorb the oil.
Slice the onion very thin length wise. Sauté in a 6 quart pot or larger the onion and celery in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil till translucent. Add the capers, pine nuts, olives, diced tomatoes with their juice and tomato sauce. Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring until the tomatoes are done, about 15 minutes. Stir in the eggplant. Cook for several minutes over low flame, stirring gently. Add 2-4 tablespoons of sugar (add more or less according to taste) and 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar. This is a sweet/savory dish. Continue cooking, stirring gently until all ingredients come together, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt and sweetness Dish should be slightly sweet.
Stop at this point and do not eat yet. The dish must sit covered in a container in the fridge for at least overnight. The taste mellows with time and gets even better. You can toast slices of Italian bread and top with the Caponata. Makes a great side dish with a loaf of Italian bread and some cheese and olives. This should be eaten cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!