New York Cookbook, by Molly O'Neill (Workman, 1992)
Patricia Yeo: Cooking from A to Z, by Patricia Yeo (St. Martin's, 2002)
One of the hard things about holiday entertaining is thinking of good appetizers that everyone isn't tired of, and that seem somewhat healthy so that people will actually eat them. Sometimes all that heavy holiday food is overwhelming and you just want something that tases like it would be good for you, but isn't boring.
Caponata, the traditional Sicilian eggplant dish, is a good answer to these problems and is a great party solution for a few other reasons. First, it's vegetarian and vegan (if you use a non-anchovy version), so no whiners there. Second, it can be made a week in advance (longer if you are into home preserving-and in that case, make jars of caponata as gifts! for Gothamist!). Third, it's flexible-it can be served on crackers, bruschetta, or pasta, or by itself. Finally, it's not overexposed, so people will be really into it, with not too much effort on your part.
Gothamist first had caponata at the home of one of our good friends, who said her mother made it (and canned it) for her every year. Our mom doesn't cook, but Gothamist plans to make one or both of the following caponata recipes for a party this year. The first recipe, a traditional Sicilian version, is from the New York Cookbook, which features recipes and anecdotes from great neighborhood chefs as well as prominent New Yorkers. This caponata was made by Mrs. Francis D'Angelo, a milliner whose son owned the D'Angelo & Latucca bakery. We're also intrigued by Patricia Yeo's Thai twist on the caponata concept, included in the "chutneys and flatbreads" section of her book, Cooking from A to Z, which we absolutely love.
Mrs. D'Angelo's Caponata (serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)
2 pounds baby Italian eggplants, ends trimmed, flesh cut into bite-size chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced Vidalia or other sweet onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 anchovy fillets
Dried red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup sliced fennel
3 tablespoons drained capers
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
5 fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup good-quality black or green olives (optional but tasty)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Salt the eggplant chunks, place in a nonreactive colander or on a plate, cover with a plate, and weigh down to force the water and bitterness from the eggplant. Let sit for 20 minutes.
2. Warm the oil in a nonreactive large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, anchovies, and pepper flakes (if using). Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste, currants, celery, fennel, capers, vinegar, wine, basil, parsley, and olives (if using). Cover the pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until thickened, about 30 minutes, adding a little water if the mixture gets too thick.
3. Rinse the eggplants and drain thoroughly. Add the eggplant to the mixture in the pan, cover, and cook until the eggplant is tender, about 40 minutes.
4. Season the caponata with pepper and additional salt to taste. Remove from the heat. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before eating.
Sweet and Sour Eggplant (Caponata)(makes 6-8 servings)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (in the oven at 350 degrees for 6-10 minutes, stirring frequently after the first 5 minutes)
5 Asian eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 large red pepper, roasted (over the open flame of your gas burner), peeled, seeded, and diced
1/4 cup capers, drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
1. Heat half of the oil in a nonstick pan over high heat. Add half of the eggplants and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the eggplants are tender and lightly browned. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining oil, eggplants, and garlic.
2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the onion and celery, and boil until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well and add to the eggplants. Add the remaining ingredients (except the cilantro) and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. The recipe can be made in advance up to this point and kept refrigerated up to 1 week.
4. Just before serving, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in the cilantro. Serve at room temperature.