All images © Valery Rizzo
Usually this time of year I am in Italy visiting with family. But since this August I am here instead and eggplants are in season I thought I would do the next best thing and pretend, by making a late summer Caponata or Ciaolella as they call it in Cilento, the southern region my family is from. Cilento is an Italian region of Campania in the central and southern part of the province of Salerno. According to my father Ciaolella (chow-LELLA) means a woman who is a little bit crazy and this is a dish, which is also a little bit crazy.
I basically cooked my father's recipe but then added potatoes à la my aunt Rosetta and then added a little bit of Brooklyn by using some local organic various smaller and striped eggplants I found at the food co-op and the Added Value Farm in Red Hook. I also added whole basil leaves to mine. My father likes to season his with red pepper flakes to add a little fire. Caponata is usually a side dish but I like to enjoy it as a main dish with a nice piece of bread to soak up the sauce on the bottom of the plate.
This dish reminds me of summers in Italy because my aunt Rosetta would send us off to the beach with sandwiches filled with, unbelievably, potatoes and eggplant. I thought to myself, how odd, a sandwich with potatoes? But on the beach they were amazingly delicious. So I also made sandwiches with the left over caponata inside of a Rosemary Cibatta roll.
8 medium to small potatoes
1 large yellow onion
1 large red pepper
2 cups of eggplant (any type you like, cut ¼ in by 1¼ in rectangular pieces)
1 medium can San Marzano Pomodori Pelati (peeled tomatoes)
10 whole basil leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (I like to use sea salt and freshly ground black pepper)
Halve your potatoes and then cut each of those halves into quarters. For larger potatoes cut into threes before cutting into quarters. Place your potatoes into a steamer or boil them until al dente or just about cooked. Set aside for later.
While your potatoes are cooking, prepare all the other vegetables and place into three separate bowls. Cut both ends of onion and then cut onion in half. Take each half and cut that into threes and then into half again. You should be left with somewhat rectangular pieces about ¼ inch to 1¼ inches in size. Cut the red pepper similarly after removing the top and the seats from inside. The eggplants should also be cut similarly and will vary depending on which types of eggplants you use. For really thin or small eggplants I cut circular pieces until I reach the larger part of the eggplant which I then cut in half and continue cutting into the same rectangular pieces. Basically all your vegetables should be the same size.
Coat liberally the bottom of a large deep frying pan with extra virgin olive oil. Over medium heat when olive oil is hot throw in your onion and cook about 5 minutes or until they start to yellow. Add red pepper and cook about 5 minutes.
Add 5 large tomatoes along with half of the sauce from your can of pomodori. While in the pan using a fork and knife cut each tomato into threes and then cut in half. Stir everything together. Add 10 whole basil leaves and stir together. Cover the top of pan halfway and let cook for 5 minutes.
Add your eggplants, stir in together and season with salt and pepper. Here you can choose to optionally add some red pepper flakes, if you like spicey. Cook about 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Then add cooked potatoes. Stir everything together and cook about 3-5 minutes more.
Serve hot paired with a nice loaf of bread to soak up the tasty sauce. The following day you can use the leftovers in a sandwich, especially if you're going to the beach.