For everyone else Sicily is: the place of longing, the story about Odysseus and the maelstrom, the mystery of nudity, Lampedusa, arabic princes and their paradisiac gardens, Goethe, the theater of Syracuse, grilled fish, ice cream, opera, maffia, garbage, sulfur mines, migration, Pirandello, the Holy Agatha, Palermo and Mount Etna.
For me Sicily is caponata: a laudation to agrodolce, sweet and sour in one spoon. It is a typical Sicilian village story in the manner of Giovanni Verga, una novella rusticana, una opera Verismo. It is all about a simple local ingredient- aubergine, embellished and enriched with dissonance. The result is pastorale: a composition that celebrates the life on land, the life of shepherds.
Ingredients (Serves 6-8):
2 large aubergines,
cut into 2cm dice
Vegetable oil, to fry
1 large red onion, sliced
5 celery sticks, cut into 2cm dice
1 red chilli (optional), finely chopped
200g ripe tomatoes, diced
1 Tbsp honey
100ml red wine vinegar
40g toasted almonds or pine nuts
Small bunch of mint, leaves picked (parsley is also good)
1. Lightly salt the diced aubergine and put them in a colander over a sink. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes, then pat dry.
2. Heat a wide, deep pan one-third-full of vegetable oil. Fry the aubergine in batches until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
3. Heat 3 tsp oil in a large, wide pan (for which you have a lid) over a medium-low heat; fry the onion and celery with a pinch of salt until soft and beginning to colour, then stir in the chilli, if using. Fry for another minute, then add the diced tomatoes and fry for another couple of minutes.
4. Stir in the capers, honey, passata, vinegar and bring to the boil, then add the fried vegetables. Season, turn the heat right down, cover and simmer gently for an hour, checking towards the end of cooking and taking the pan off the heat if it seems to be drying out.
5. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then check the seasoning. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan, then add them, along with the roughly torn mint, just before serving. DON’T SERVE IT HOT OR WARM!