Behind the recipe: Caponata—Sicily’s ultimate fusion food
Perhaps more than any other dish from the island, caponata reflects the exceptional diversity of Sicilian cooking.
The ingredient list doubles as a history lesson about the island. Arabs brought eggplants from North Africa after they took over in the 700s, their delicious cooking traditions later preserved by the Normans, who employed Arab cooks in their castles in the 1000s. Tomatoes were introduced by Spanish aristocrats in the 1500’s; according to food historian Clifford Wright, the name itself may come from the Catalan word, caponada, a similar dish that would have been served aboard ships, the vinegar acting as a preservative on the long voyages across the sea.
But others think the name comes from the capperi, or capers, which grow in abundance on the island. Pine nuts are also native to Sicily and honey bees thrive on wildflowers that grow all over the island. Currants and vinegar come from grapes first planted there by Ancient Greeks.
When these ingredients are cooked together, the resulting relish showcases the classic Sicilian flavor profile, agrodolce, marrying sweet with sour. The combo is thought to have origins in both Spain and North Africa (and maybe also Ancient Greece and Rome). It’s all Sicilian to us.
The sweet and sour flavors of Sicily—Living la vita agrodolce
Poised at the tip of Italy's boot, the tiny island of Sicily (but still the biggest in the Mediterranean) has absorbed some sizeable changes in its cooking over the centuries. The island’s central location and abundant natural resources made it a prime target for invasion. Ancient Greeks and Romans, Arabs from North Africa, Normans from Northern Europe, and aristocrats of medieval Spain all left delicious traces of flavors from home in the pantries of Sicily's cooks. Today, the island's cusine still stands apart from mainland Italy.Read more
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