Caponata Smackdown

One of the Italian dishes I adore is Caponata, a Sicilian eggplant treat with strong overtones of the island’s Arabic influences.  The current population of Italy is 60,254,297 people, so there must be at least 60 million recipes for Caponata.  Virtually all of them have these elements in common:

  • eggplant
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • wine vinegar
  • sugar

After that, the alternatives are endless.  Over the years I have had many variations of this dish, but there have always been two which were my favorites.  One is from The Meatless Cookbook, by Franco and Margaret Romagnoli; the other is Mario Batali’s from his book, Molto Italiano.  Today I decided it was time to do a side-by-side comparison — sort of a Caponata Smackdown in today’s food vernacular —  and I am delighted to present some of the early findings to you, my loyal readers.

two dishes and books-3

The one by the Romagnolis goes back to the mid-1970s, and it was my first encounter with this delicious way to prepare eggplant.  The distinctive features are, in fact, green — namely the crunch of cooked celery, the saltiness of good capers, and the bite of cracked green olives.  The recipe is simple and relatively quick to make:

Caponata - Romagnolis Romagnolis in pan Caponata Romagnoli's

Mario’s version is much more Moorish in tone, redolent with currants, pine nuts, cinnamon, unsweetened cacao powder, fresh thyme, and hot pepper flakes.  The colors tend more to dark brown and black, and mine was able to feature Italian pine nuts from my recent visit to BuonItalia in New York.

Caponata - Batali Batali in pan Caponata Batali with Italian Pine Nuts Caponata Molto Italiano

Since this was an early afternoon project, I continued the field test by making the last of my grilled radicchio and roasted red and yellow peppers panini — with side orders of each caponata.  They were both very good.

pan-grilled panino with 2 caponate

For the wine, during food preparation and consumption, I seriously considered several options from Sicily, but ultimately decided on a Li Veli Susumaniello from Puglia.


So….is there a conclusion to all of this?  Americans always like hard ratings and numbers, but my answer is ….. “it depends.”  As with wine, I would make my selection depending on the dishes being served with the Caponata.  Or the wine I wanted.  Absent any other factors, I prefer the Romagnolis’ dish.  But the spicy, exotic flavors of Batali’s version would jazz up a number of meals and would be more appropriate with them.

Furthermore, my experience is that the flavors mellow and deepen over 2-4 days (if I don’t eat it all before then), so I would reserve final judgments until then.

Buon appetito.

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