Cookbook club this week features chocolate and whilst the majority of dishes brought by members will doubtless be sweet I wanted to balance the evening by making this Sicilian dish, Capanata cooked by every island housewife. If you call into to visit a family in their home you will be offered a drink, often of a sweetish wine, and a spoonful of capanata. I’ve been making this recipe for many years and it stands out for me as it has some bitter chocolate stirred in at the end. This thickens and softens the sauce that coats the vegetables. I think I was told at the time that I first made it that the addition of chocolate was an African idea but as cooks in Sicily take their recipes from a host of both Mediterranean and European cuisines this may not be the case.
When staying in Sicily recently I asked my hostess’s cook if she added chocolate to her Capanata and was laughed out of the kitchen!
vegetable oil for frying
1 celery head
125ml olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
400g tomato passata or plum tomatoes, drained and pureed
1 tablespoon grated chocolate
150ml red wine vinegar
100g capers, rinsed
90g sweet green olives
Peel the aubergines, cut them into cubes and fry in hot oil until golden brown, and then drain on kitchen paper.
Use only the heart of the celery and remove the outer coarse bits with a potato peeler, cutting the rest into long matchsticks. Fry the matchsticks in the same oil and drain on kitchen paper.
Heat the olive oil in a clean pan; add the onions, 2 pinches of salt and a pinch of the sugar. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until soft and just coloured. Add the tomatoes, the rest of the sugar, the grated chocolate, a little salt and lots of pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes and add the vinegar and capers. Cut the stoned olives into quarters and add to the pan with the celery and aubergine. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
Spoon the capanatina into a serving bowl and allow to cool. Serve with plenty of good bread.
Alternatively, dish it out of a large Pugliese bread which is cut in half and has the soft inner crumb hollowed out. Spoon it into the bread just before serving.