This single-bowl meal is inspired by my time spent in Sicily, walking the rugged streets of Palermo and reveling in the fresh produce spilling from street vendors and outdoor markets.
Caponata is a delicious, fragrant dish native to the island and a favorite among many Sicilians. It traditionally uses eggplants as the foundation, a hint of sugar to sweeten the dish, and capers and anchovies to give it that lovely zesty contrast to the sweetness of the eggplant. It is usually eaten with warm, crusty bread as an appetizer or antipasto.
Like so many of my recipes, this version is somewhat different both in ingredients and preparation. I chose to serve this caponata with a crunchy golden millet pilaf that takes the dish from an appetizer to a filling and hearty one-bowl meal. Decorated with golden raisins and toasty almond slivers, the millet becomes the perfect contrast to the silken texture of the caponata.
This is one of those dishes where the flavors are only as good as the ingredients you use so be sure to buy the freshest produce you can find.
Mediterranean Caponata ingredients:
- 2 Tbsp olives oil plus 1 Tbsp more for garnish
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 sticks celery, diced
- 4 small or 2 large tomatoes
- 6 sundried tomatoes
- 2 tinned sardines
- 3.5 oz tomato paste
- 3 medium eggplants
- 1 lb Italian green or multi-colored broad beans
- 1 Tbsp salt divided into 3 tsps
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
Begin by heating 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large pot on medium. After a minute or so add in the onion, garlic and celery and stir until the vegetables are coated in oil. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to cook while you prepare the other ingredients.
Chop the tomatoes into small cubes, retaining the juice and pulp. Set this aside in a bowl while you slice the sundried tomatoes and mash the sardines. Add these to the bowl along with the tomato paste and stir to combine.
Spoon the tomato mixture into the pot and mix everything together. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt, turn the heat to simmer and allow to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile slice your eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slabs and then slice these into rough cubes. Wash your green beans, trim the ends and cut into inch-long pieces.
Add the eggplant and green beans to the pot along with another teaspoon of salt, the remaining spices, herbs and sugar. Slice the olives and add them to the pot as well. Pour in 1 cup of water and mix everything to combine. Cover and let simmer for thirty minutes, adding 1/2 cup more water if it gets too dry.
Your caponata should now be smooth and the eggplant should be soft. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in the chopped parsley, reserving a bit to garnish at the end.
Set the caponata aside while you make the millet. I recommend preparing this dinner as I have laid out in this recipe as the flavors of the caponata come out more the longer it sits after cooking. You could even make the caponata the night before and simply reheat it the next evening once your millet is ready.
Turmeric-Scented Millet ingredients:
- 1.5 cups millet
- 3 cups water
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/3 cup almonds
- 1-2 Tbsp dairy or vegan butter
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
Wash the millet and add it to a medium pot with a splash of olive oil and toast on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Then pour in the water, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer, add the turmeric and salt, and set your timer for 15 minutes. Cook with the top on until the water has been absorbed and the millet is fluffy.
Meanwhile use a sharp knife to thinly slice your almonds. Although you can buy pre-sliced almonds, I find the freshness of slicing them yourself is incomparable to the store-bought variety. I like rough slivers so that each bite of millet is accented with an almond crunch.
Heat a small sauce pan over low heat and add your sliced almonds. Use a wooden spoon to move the almonds around continuously as they toast. Be sure not to leave them unattended or they will burn.
Once the almonds are golden and toasty, transfer them to a small bowl and set this aside.
Your millet should now be done cooking. Remove the pot cover and fluff the grains with a fork. Add the toasted almonds and raisins and mix to combine. Then cover the pot again and allow to raisins to plump up in the residual steam for a few minutes.
Just before serving stir in the butter and olive oil.
To assemble, place a mound of millet in a shallow bowl and liberally spoon the caponata over it. Enjoy with a fresh green salad and a glass of bold red wine.