Slightly tweaked from Mario Batali
I normally don’t tweak much in Batali recipes – they’re perfect as they are, but most of the time, I don’t have at-the-ready pre-made tomato sauce. Instead, I’ve generally found that good canned tomatoes, spiked with some garlic and chile flake, will work in a pinch, so I use that here. I was out of currants (confession: I am pretty much always out of currants) but not of golden raisins (which are Andrew’s favorite) so I used those instead, and I prefer them to currants in this recipe, but if you want to go full-Sicilian, then by all means, hunt down those dried currants. Please, please, please, don’t skip on pine nuts. Yes, they are expensive (though Trader Joe’s sells them for a song) but they are an integral component of caponata. I scaled balsamic down just a touch and threw in whole thyme sprigs, because I was lazy to pick all those leaves off; I later fished out whatever was left of the sprigs – the leaves had fallen into the caponata. Batali starts you off with half the amounts below, but last time I checked, no one has ever complained of extra caponata lingering in the fridge. It makes for a terrific snack and instant antipasto if you have unexpected company.
2 large Spanish onions, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
6 tablespoons pine nuts
6 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
2 garlic cloves, smashed
4 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 8 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 10 healthy sprigs left whole
1 (12.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (I recommend doing this to taste, but to give you an idea, I used about 1 teaspoon for my batch)
1/4 cup fresh, chopped mint
1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven, optional
1. In a large 14-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, heat enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, raisins, chile flakes, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook until the eggplant starts to soften, about 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Lower the heat and simmer the caponata for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool to room temperature or refrigerate until needed. Before serving, garnish with mint and chile flakes. Serve as crostini topping or a side dish.