The immortal Caponata
From a “humble” dish to a sovereign of Sicilian cuisine
Etymologically the word caponata seems to have come from “capone”, the name of a fish common in the Mediterranean Sea called lampuga. The prized but dry flesh of this seasonal fish had always been a favorite in the baronial repasts of the Sicilian aristocracy. In order to mitigate its dryness this fish was seasoned with a sweet and sour sauce typical in the preparation of either fish or salad greens. In contrast, in the majority of the kitchens of the common people, where vegetables, legumes and greens were valued and commonly used for obvious local and economic reasons, costly fish was eliminated and replaced by less expensive seasonal garden produce, with the eggplant, in first place as the vegetale of choice.
The merit for substitution of fish with the eggplant and the subsequent creation of caponata, as we know it, belongs to the lower classes tied to the cultivation of vegetable gardens and the land.
As a consequence of removing fish as it man ingedient, this “mock” caponata evolved into a popular dish consisting solely of vegetables. Besides the use of the eggplant as main ingredient, its recipe also call for capers, olives, celery, pine nuts and raisins, as well as vinegar and sugar, to give its classical sweet and sour taste. The caponata can also be completed with the additional of chopped toasted almonds, or with a less orthodox addition of bitter cacao powder, to further enhance its already rich history of taste and tradition.
Translation of Professor Anthony Perrone for Sicilia Bella ©