“You know Alison, this took us only one hour to make. It usually takes me three!” Lou Palma
Lou’s words were music to my ears as we concluded a very efficient caponata making date couple Thursdays ago. (Caponata is a Sicilian cooked vegetable salad, kind of like ratatouille. You can find it ready made in jars near the olives and tapenade in most grocery stores.) Our unsurpassable success making five quarts in an hour surprised even Lou, a communal cooking maven who relishes preparing and savoring meals with family and friends. As I was helping Lou crimp empanadas with my friend Christina last Wednesday, I caught wind of his plans to make the traditional eggplant, caper and olive crostini appetizer he serves to his vegetarian relatives on Easter.
He kindly delayed his cooking intentions for that afternoon, and agreed to make the dish with me (and our friend Debbie) the following day. Like me, Lou gets pleasure out of teaching eager cooks how to make something for the first time. He’ll also rarely turn down an offer of help. I think my wide eyed enthusiasm guaranteed it would be worth the delay for him.
Lou did all the shopping ahead of time (what a champ!) and had everything laid out and ready to go when Debbie and I got there. All I had to do was remember to bring the onions. And with a reminder e-mail from him just before I had to leave, I couldn’t fail! Lou ran our caponata making like a 5 star chef runs a restaurant kitchen. He had us dicing, slicing and sautéing while he directed us around his kitchen from drawers to cabinets. In no time, caponata was simmering and we had time to show Debbie Lou’s garden, his “pride and joy.”
We left Lou with clean dishes, sparkling counters, a pot simmering on the stove and a promise to come back to help pack up. As I left, we counted all the foods we’ve made together — tortellini, ravioli, mozzarella, empanadas and now caponata — and we wondered what would be next. I know whatever it will be is sure to be delicious and full of fun making it together.
I happened to taste test Whole Foods caponata yesterday in their prepared food section. Two things to note: it’s not nearly as good as ours and it’s a whole lot more expensive! Since it sells for $7.99 a pound, it would cost $80.00 to buy the amount we made. Lou and I spent $13.00 each (about $26.00 total) on our ingredients.
Makes 5 quarts
Lou’s Recipe By: Leslie Ficaro
4 pounds eggplant, cubed
3 large onions, thinly sliced
8 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 quart large green olives, pitted (we used olives marinated in garlic)
1 cup small capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup golden raisins, whole
Slivered almonds, toasted for serving
Sautee eggplant in batches until browned. Drain in a colander. Sautee onions and celery until tender do not brown. Add tomatoes olives, capers, tomato paste vinegar, sugar and raisin. Stir in eggplant and cook for one half hour. Cool and refrigerate.
When serving top with toasted almonds