Christmas Caponata

How about bringing a Sicilian specialty to your holiday table this season? Caponata is a traditional dish rich with color, and is often served as a complement to local seafood in Sicily.  When I lived in Italy, I fell in love with the intensity of fresh flavors from the Mediterranean.  I particularly enjoy caponata as an accompaniment to pasta and fish or served with bread either plain or toasted bruschetta-style.

Traditionally, caponata is a flavorful melange of local Italian produce, particularly eggplant.  However, my modified version incorporates a rich and complex medley of seasonal flavors, like fennel and figs, revealing its versatility. The sweetness of the figs combined with the tartness of the orange zest pairs beautifully with the tangy red wine vinegar. Caponata is a perfect  antipasto that can be made in advance. I typically serve caponata room temperature and accompany it with prosciutto, salami, fresh mozzarella, clementines, cucumber, olives, and crusty bread.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups fennel bulb, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup eggplant, diced
10 dried figs, stems removed and diced
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp drained capers
1/2 cup green olives,  roughly chopped
1 tsp grated naval orange zest
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 10-inch saute pan. Add the onions and fennel and saute for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

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Maintaining medium-heat, stir in the vinegar, tomatoes, eggplant, figs, and brown sugar, stirring to coat everything with the tomatoes.

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Next, stir in the capers, olives, orange zest, red peppers flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a light boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until thickened.

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Stir in the orange juice and parsley.

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Serve the caponata warm or at room temperature with toasted bread and your favorite antipasti complements.

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