Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Caponata provides change from usual grilled fare

Here's How

By Marilyn Harris
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Grilling out doesn't have to mean just ribs and burgers. Using your grill all summer long gets you (and the heat) out of the kitchen. So many vegetables taste more delicious when cooked in the dry heat of a grill.

Today's recipe, for an Italian condiment called caponata, is a delicious combination of vegetables with a tangy sweet-sour raisin mixture. It's great served at room temperature as soon as it is completed, but it tastes even better chilled a day or two. It will keep nicely in the refrigerator for 10 days to two weeks - if you can keep it that long without eating it.

Serve it as a condiment alongside any grilled meat. I particularly enjoy it with grilled lamb and pork, but a plain chicken breast or salmon fillet can also be dressed up with a large spoonful for an easy garnish. Another favorite way to serve caponata is as an appetizer spooned onto crisp pita triangles or crostini.

Eggplant is perfect for grilling. Just enough good olive oil to coat the surface, to enhance browning and prevent it from sticking, is all that is needed. By the way, this is the time to get out your best extra-virgin olive oil, since the flavor will be an important part of this dish.

While the vegetables are grilling, make the quick raisin and vinegar sauce in the microwave and allow it to sit 20 minutes to plump the raisins. You can use dark raisins, but the golden ones add a better flavor and look prettier.

Finally, the recipe calls for roasted garlic. Here's the best way: Cut the top off of a large, firm head of garlic, just far enough to expose the tops of the cloves. Place garlic on a square of heavy-duty foil and drizzle with about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and tightly close the foil by crimping the top. Place in the hot grill and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. After garlic cools, gentle pressure on the bottom will push the roasted cloves out the top.

Grilled Caponata

2 small to medium eggplant, about 1 pound each

1 large red bell pepper

1 large yellow bell pepper

1 large red Spanish onion (or other sweet onion)

6 Roma tomatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

4 large cloves roasted garlic

3 tablespoons capers

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil leaves

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or to taste)

Wash and trim the stems from eggplants. Cut in half lengthwise. Score the surface, cutting about 1/4 inch into the eggplant. Brush the surface with olive oil, using just enough oil to coat. Place the eggplant, cut side down, on a medium-hot grill. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes or until tender. Remove and cool.

After the eggplant is on the grill, halve the peppers and brush on both sides with the olive oil. Cut the onion into thick lengthwise slices and brush with oil. Grill both until crisp-tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool.

Halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Brush both sides with oil. Place on the grill for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Cool and remove the peel.

Scoop the eggplant from its peeling and chop the pulp into a fine dice. Chop the peppers and onions. Add to the eggplant. Chop the tomatoes and add to mixture.

Place the raisins and brown sugar in a measuring cup and pour over the vinegar. Heat in microwave until vinegar is boiling. Remove and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Add to eggplant mixture. Add the chopped roasted garlic cloves, capers, parsley, basil, salt and Tabasco. Stir in the raisin mixture.

Taste and correct the seasonings. Serve when completely cooled or cover and chill for several hours. Makes about 6 cups.

Contact Marilyn Harris by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; e-mail:

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