by Owen Lightly | Caponata is a sweet and sour vegetable concoction from Sicily. It follows the general rule that if you fry things in hot oil – beautiful summer vegetables in this case – they will usually come out very tasty. The basic idea is to separately cook a variety of vegetables (whatever is in season and plentiful) in hot oil and then marinate them in a sweet and sour tomato sauce. The addition of pine nuts and raisins is a smart move, and something you see a lot of in Sicilian cooking. Once it has been left to find itself for a couple of hours, it can be enjoyed with bread, pasta, fish, meat, eggs or directly out of the bowl with a spoon.
After you’ve made it a few times, you will probably have made a few of your own tweaks, and then it will be yours. Forever. After the leap is a recipe we came up with that sees caponata and fried squash blossom next to roasted halibut…
Roasted Halibut with Caponata & Fried Squash Blossom
Caponata | yields 4 portions
1 piece / 400 grams purple eggplant, diced into ½-inch pieces
2 piece / 400 grams zucchini, quartered and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 head / 200 grams fennel, remove core and dice into ½-inch pieces
½ head / 200 grams cauliflower, separated into ½-inch florets
4 sticks / 200 grams celery, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 piece / 200 grams red pepper, remove core and dice into ½-inch pieces
1 medium sized / 200 grams red onion, peeled and diced into ½-inch pieces
4 cloves / 40 grams garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ cups / 250 grams cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons, 45 millilitres red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon / 13 grams sugar
1/3 cup / 60 grams golden raisins, plumped in hot water and strained
1/3 cup / 60 grams pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons / 30 grams capers
¼ -cup extra virgin olive oil
vegetable oil for deep-frying
kosher salt, to taste ¼
Heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350°F in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Fry the eggplant, zucchini, fennel, cauliflower, celery and red pepper in separate batches until caramelized and tender, about 2 minutes, stopping between batches to allow the oil to come up to temperature again. After each vegetable is done, remove them with a slotted spoon to a tray lined with paper towel and season gently with kosher salt. In a separate sauté pan over medium heat, sweat the red onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the cherry tomatoes to the onions and cook until they are just beginning to soften. Add the tomato mixture to a large mixing bowl with the fried vegetables, red wine vinegar, sugar, golden raisins, pine nuts and capers. Add the olive oil and season to taste with kosher salt and more vinegar and sugar if you like. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
½-cup / 100 grams cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
100 millilitres extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of cayenne
kosher salt, to taste
Place the tomatoes and red wine vinegar in a blender and process on low speed until liquidized. While the blender is still running, add the olive oil slowly. Strain through a fine sieve into a small mixing bowl, pushing with the back of a ladle to extract as much liquid as possible. Season to taste with the cayenne and kosher salt.
Fried Squash Blossom
1 cup / 165 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon / 2 grams salt
1 tablespoon / 8 grams cornstarch
1 cup cold sparkling water
½ cup ice water
4 pieces male squash blossoms (the ones without fruit)
Preheat about 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350°F in a large heavy-bottomed pot. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and cornstarch. In a separate bowl, mix the sparkling water, icewater and egg. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined. Dip each squash blossom in the batter, shaking off any excess and place gently in the hot oil. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Remove to a tray lined with paper towel and season gently with kosher salt.
4 x 150 gram pieces halibut, skinned
vegetable oil for sautéing
4 fried squash blossoms
Preheat the oven to 400°. Season the halibut with kosher salt on all sides. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add a thin film of vegetable oil. Just when the oil begins to smoke, add the halibut flesh side down. Leave on the stovetop for 1 minute and then place in the oven for approximately 3-4 minutes, or until just cooked. Place a small mound of caponata on each plate slightly off center, followed by a nice pool of tomato vinaigrette beside it. Place the squash blossom on the tomato vinaigrette and serve.
(photos by Michael Sider)
Owen Lightly is the founder of Butter On The Endive, a full service catering company dedicated to providing inspired food experiences to its clients. A veteran member of many local kitchen teams (among them Aurora Bistro, West, Au Petit Chavignol, Araxi, and Market), he pens Scout’s new Pound Of Butter food column. Read our interview with him here.