This is a traditional Sicilian stew with a refreshing sweet-sour flavour. Serve warm or at room temperature, as an antipasti or side dish. Allow plenty of time for salting the aubergines. Caponata improves with keeping and can be stored in the fridge for several days. Bring it back to room temperature when you
aubergines 2 medium, sliced into 2cm cubes
sea salt 1½ tsp, plus extra for seasoning
olive oil for frying
celery stalks 4–5, destringed, sliced into 2cm pieces
red pepper 2, deseeded and cut into 2cm squares
onion 1 medium, finely chopped
chopped tomatoes 400g can
freshly ground black pepper
sugar 1 tbsp
white wine vinegar 5 tbsp
plain chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids) about 15g finely grated to make 1 tbsp
salted capers 3 tbsp rinsed
raisins or sultanas 50g
large green or black olives (preferably Sicilian) 12–15, pitted and halved
sesame bread (see separate recipe) or sourdough to serve
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1) Tip the diced aubergines into a roomy colander and toss with the salt. Cover with a weighted plate and leave to drain for at least 2 hours. Gently squeeze the aubergines to remove excess liquid. Spread out on a tray lined with paper towel and blot dry.
2) Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan large enough to take the aubergine cubes in a single layer. Once the oil is very hot, fry the aubergines, stirring now and again, until golden – about 5 minutes. Remove with a perforated spoon, blot on fresh paper towel and set aside.
3) Fry the celery and red pepper together in the remaining oil (add a little more oil if necessary), until golden round the edges. Remove from the pan, blot on fresh paper towel and set aside.
4) Meanwhile, heat another 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based casserole or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, a sprinkle of salt, and fry for about 5 minutes until soft.
5) Add the tomatoes to the onion, season with freshly ground black pepper and a little more salt. Simmer uncovered, for 12–15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened.
6) While the tomato mixture is cooking, heat the sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan. Add the chocolate, capers, raisins and olives. Stir over gentle heat until the chocolate has melted.
Stir the chocolate mixture into the tomato mixture. Simmer for 2–3 minutes.
7) Stir in the aubergines, celery and red pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes, partially covered, until thickened. Check the seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature with a slice of sesame bread or sourdough, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.
Sicilian Sesame Bread
Sicilian bread is made with semola rimacinata (remilled durum wheat). This gives it a gorgeous golden crumb, while the sesame seed coating provides a nice nutty flavour and a bit of crunch.
Diastatic malt flour (dough improver) is optional but it helps improve the rise. See Sources below for suppliers.
The bread is easy to make with a standing mixer. Otherwise give your arm muscles a work-out and knead by hand.
Makes 2 loaves
semola rimacinata 410g
strong Canadian bread flour 120g
easy-bake dried yeast 1 tbsp
fine sea salt 1 heaped tsp
diastatic malt flour (optional) ¾ tsp
olive oil or toasted sesame oil 2 tbsp
tepid water 300ml
egg white 1
cold water 1 tbsp
sesame seeds 2 tbsp
1) Put the semola, bread flour, dried yeast, salt, diastatic malt flour (if using) in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix for 2 minutes. Otherwise put in a sieve set over a bowl. Muddle with your fingers, then shake through the sieve. Sieve once or twice more until well blended. If using a standing mixer, remove a cupful of the flour mixture and set aside.
2) Combine the oil and tepid water in a jug. Gradually add to the flour mixture, stirring to blend. Mix for a few minutes until the dough comes together. If using a standing mixer, gradually add the reserved cup of flour. Knead for 6 minutes (or longer by hand) until you have a soft springy dough.
3) Shape the dough into a ball and put in an oiled bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 1½ hours until doubled in size.
4) Knock back the dough and divide in half. Roll each half into a 45cm long rope. Working with one piece of dough at a time, mark the centre of the rope. Coil one end to the centre, then coil the other end to make an 'S' shape.
5) Place the loaves on a greased or silicon-lined baking tray, leaving as much space as possible between them to allow for expansion. Cover with a large upturned roasting tin, or oiled cling wrap. Leave to rise for 1 hour, until puffy.
6) Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.
7) Lightly beat the egg white with the cold water. Brush over the loaves. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, pressing them into the dough. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through, until skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Semola Rimacinata is sold by good Italian delis. You can also buy it online from mattas.co.uk
Diastatic malt flour is sold by bakerybits.co.uk