September 25, 2011
Caponata & Polenta
Of course, you can tell (I'm quite sure) that the polenta rounds in the picture were not from a polenta that I had made myself, but rather from one of those prepared tubes that you can buy. We didn't find it an entirely acceptable substitute, by the way, but once we drowned the grilled-up rounds with the deliciousness of caponata, it sufficed for the evening. Homemade polenta would have made this absolutely heavenly.
The real story here is the caponata. I've been making this for a few years, now, since I first saw a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Caponata Picnic Sandwiches. I've tweaked it a little to reduce the oil, and upgraded it from side dish to feature, although any leftovers certainly do make wonderful sandwiches (particularly if you have some leftover garlic bread and bocconcini). I like a piquancy in my caponata, so I reduce the sugar, but your mileage may vary. More sugar emphasizes its sort of sweet-and-sour character.
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4 as a main dish
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium Italian eggplant, diced
1 to 2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon dry white vermouth (optional)
1 medium red or yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 to 2 cups unsalted canned diced tomatoes (with juices)
4 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
4 tablespoons Italian Red Wine Vinegar
1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 - 2 branches fresh basil, stems removed
This dish comes together very easily. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the celery and saute a little, then add the eggplant and continue to saute until it begins to soften. Add the salt, and then the red pepper, and splash with a little vermouth if it is sticking (you can also use water). Stir and saute a little more, and then add the onion. Continue to saute, and once the onions are starting to get tender, add the tomatoes, raisins, oregano. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste (I don't usually add any more salt here). Add the vinegar, one teaspoon of sugar, and the capers (rinsed and drained, please!), and stir through. Simmer very gently for a couple of minutes, then taste again. If needed, correct by adding more vinegar or sugar. Garnish with torn up basil leaves.
I note that this is much more colourful a dish than it may actually seem from the picture, which I blame on the inordinately, festively coloured (and busy) plate that I served it on.
That's it. Easy, right? And you can grill your polenta while it simmers, or you can make the caponata first, and serve it at room temperature once the polenta is grilled up - it's full of flavour and equally tasty warm or cool - and therefore, excellent picnic fare, as the recommended original application. You could also serve this warm over hot, soft polenta, rather than the firm version.
Now, I haven't mentioned the scruffy looking mushrooms on the other side of the plate, yes, I know. They are simply broiled mushrooms - tasty, but not very glamorous (or photogenic, apparently). Portabella mushrooms cut into slices, tossed with soy sauce and olive oil, and popped under the broiler until tender. That's it! Although, it does lead to another lovely possibility for serving the caponata: brush whole, gills-removed portabellas with a little olive oil and roast until tender, then fill with warm caponata, garnish with basil, and present triumphantly, perhaps with a nice crusty loaf of bread on the side.