I think our local area is at the peak of summer season produce, with my CSA Box filled with eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini. At the beginning of the season when my share was fairly light, I treated each vegetable that came in my CSA Box as a treasure, featuring them in recipes on their own or combined perhaps with one other vegetable. However, as the summer bounty has increased, I have found myself with loads of vegetables at their peak, and have found the best way to enjoy them is to combine them in dishes so my family can enjoy them farm-fresh.
One recipe that I haven’t made in a while but love is Caponata. Caponata is an Italian antipasto that is often served in the summer, and makes a nice appetizer or side dish. My favorite recipe comes from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen cookbook. According to Lidia, Caponata is a Sicilian dish, “simple to make and needs no imported ingredients – just good vegetables and the proper technique…best served at room temperature.”
Lidia is right on spot. Although Caponata requires a bit of prep work chopping all the vegetables and cooking time, since each vegetable is sauteed individually before being combined, it is well worth the effort. I made this during the summer for one of my son’s baseball tailgate parties and received rave reviews. The biggest compliment came from a couple who are true foodies. The husband, who is Italian, gobbled it up. I was tickled pink and sent home the extras with them.
Lidia Bastianich was born in the town of Pula, Istria, then newly ceded to Yugoslavia, now part of Croatia. After living nine years under Tito’s Communist regime, her family fled Yugoslavia for Trieste, Italy, in 1956, where they joined other families claiming political asylum from Communist Yugoslavia, and lived in a refugee camp.
In 1958, Lidia’s family was permitted to emigrate to the U.S., sponsored by Catholic Charities. Initially, they lived in North Bergen, New Jersey, but later moved to Astoria, Queens, where Lidia started working at a bakery at the age of 14 (the legal age for a work permit). After high school, she worked full-time in local Italian restaurants and went on to open several restaurants in Queens, featuring Italian and Istrian dishes. She married at the age of 19, and gave birth to a son (Joe) and a daughter (Tanya).
After her father passed away, the family sold their two restaurants in Queens and purchased a small Manhattan brownstone, which was converted into what is their flagship restaurant today, Felidia.
The family went on to open five more restaurants in New York, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Lidia also became a regular contributor to public television cooking shows, including Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, Lidia’s Family Table and Lidia’s Italy. Today, the family’s business (with her son and daughter) empire includes vineyards in Italy, olive groves in Istria, commercial food products, commercial housewares, and a a 50,000 square foot food emporium in Manhattan that is devoted to the food and culinary traditions of Italy (Lidia and her son partnered with Oscar Farinetti and Mario Batali).
I fondly remember watching Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen cooking series, and purchased her accompanying cookbook shortly after watching a few shows. I have made numerous recipes from this cookbook for friends (including my Italian friends), and continue to refer to it when my kids want Italian food for dinner.
Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen. I made a few adjustments to the recipe, including reducing the amount of oil used to saute the vegetables, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil, using white balsamic vinegar instead of white vinegar, substituting dried cranberries for golden raisins (that’s what I had on hand), and toasting the pine nuts for more flavor. I also cut the vegetables into smaller pieces (1/2″ versus 1″). This is best served at room temperature on top of crostini.
- 1 medium red bell pepper cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1/4 cup cup olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant stem removed, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 1 small zucchini cut into 1/2" cubes
- 1 medium white onion diced, about 1 1/2 cups
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup pitted green olives
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts toasted
- 1 tablespoon tiny capers drained and rinsed
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 fresh tomatoes peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons organic sugar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
- Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Stir in red pepper and cook 1 minute. Drain thoroughly.
- Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until a cube of eggplant dipped in the oil gives off a lively sizzle. Add the eggplant cubes and fry, stirring and turning them so they cook evenly, until the eggplant is golden brown on all sides. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a separate large skillet. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the onion to the oil remaining in the pan and cook, stirring 1 minute.
- Stir in the celery and cook until the vegetables are wilted, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the cranberries, green olives, pine nuts, capers, and blanched pepper.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking, stirring, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the diced tomatoes and cook until they are softened, about 5 minutes.
- While the vegetables are cooking, make the sugar-mint syrup. Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and the mint, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the syrup into the skillet of vegetables and cook until the vegetables are very soft and juicy but not broken up, about 3-4 minutes.
- Finally, stir in the eggplant and zucchini and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Cool completely before refrigerating.