This Caponata with Preserved Lemon and Balsamic is def a tasty way to use peak late summer produce!
Caponata has its origins in Sicily. It is traditionally made with a base of tomatoes, eggplant, and celery and is served as an accompaniment to fish or as an appetizer. This Caponata with Preserved Lemon and Balsamic starts with the classic base plus onion, capers, red bell pepper, golden raisins, garlic, red pepper flakes, and, of course, balsamic vinegar and preserved lemon. Every bite is packed with a variety of flavors and textures. It is one of those things that never gets old as you eat it because each bite presents a new combination, keeping your taste buds excited!
In my humble opinion, balsamic vinegar is simply the best vinegar to use in caponata because of the inherent sweetness and almost jammy flavor when reduced. Think balsamic reduction – those are the flavor notes added when using balsamic vinegar in caponata. This also eliminates the need for added sugars, which is quite common in recipes using a tangier vinegar like red wine in order to achieve the sweet-sour balance caponata calls for.
The inclusion of preserved lemon is mainly to increase the sour notes of the caponata. It adds a whiff of lemon, but so little is used that lemon is not a dominant flavor. Which is good! Because there is so much else going on. If you do not have preserved lemon, use a bit of zest or lemon juice instead. I think it makes it more dynamic, but as just 1 tsp. of preserved lemon in used in the entire 5 cups that this recipe makes, it provides background notes not predominant flavors. So you can also leave it out if you prefer.
I like to serve this Caponata with Preserved Lemon and Balsamic with toast as a light lunch. It freezes really well, although it will change the coloring a bit, the flavor (and most of the texture) will be maintained. Caponata is best served at room temperature or slightly warmed. Also, as a type of stew, it is best served after resting. Give this 12 hours for the flavors to meld for the most tasty result.
Caponata with Preserved Lemon and Balsamic
Servings: makes 5 cups or so (depending on how much the veg cooks down)
Time: 30 minutes
- 1.5 lbs. eggplant, cubed (2 medium)
- 1 large red bell pepper, diced
- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 4 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 cup of diced onion (I used yellow)
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup of golden raisins
- 1/4 cup of capers
- 1/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
- 3 tbsp. of balsamic
- 1 tsp. of grated preserved lemon rind, packed
- Butter (or sub more oil)
- Shallow fry (in oil – I used EVOO) the cubed eggplant in batches until golden on all sides.
- While the eggplant is frying, add the celery and onion to another pan with butter. Cook over medium heat until the onion and celery are becoming translucent and are just starting to brown.
- Add the 3 minced garlic cloves to the onion and celery and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes).
- Pour in the 3 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar, chopped tomatoes, capers, raisins, crushed red pepper flakes, and preserved lemon.
- Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low.
- Cook on medium-low until the tomatoes break down and the liquid has reduced by half. Stir every so often during cooking to prevent anything from sticking.
- Add the fried eggplant. Reduce heat to low, and stir to combine ingredients. Cook for about 10 minutes on low to allow the eggplant to absorb and thicken the sauce.
- In the finished product, the tomatoes will have broken down completely, and combined with the juices of the veg and balsamic vinegar to make a thick sauce. All extra liquid should be absorbed.
- Caponata tastes best after resting for a day, so make this ahead. When ready to serve either allow to come to room temperature or heat over low until warm.