Caponata with Seared Cod and Mussels

I recently read about Caponata’s sweet and sour flavour but for me that does this dish no justice and conjures up images of a greasy Chinese, paling in comparison to this ‘aubergine stew’ which serves up some of the best Sicily has to offer. I do admit that the Arab influenced combination of aubergines, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar does have a sweet and sour contrast but it is much subtler and well-balanced.

Like most classic Italian dishes there are 1001 variations and you could spend hours trawling through books and the internet deciding on one. I used a mix of a few recipes including Carluccio’s one which seems to be quite well regarded but whose cooking time I think is too short as I really wanted this to have a compote texture. Other recipes add spice or sweetness through chilli or raisins . Personal preference and how you will serve it will probably dictate that. Being used as everything from a pickle to a main dish it has a lot of scope. The idea to serve it with seafood came from Wikipedia as before I hadn’t seen anyone suggest it as a side to fish and I thought that cod and mussels would go well due to one’s quite subtle taste and the others bolder, salty one. I would probably also use clams next time to add another element to the dish.

To quote Jamie Oliver (who also has a seemingly good recipe) it is really important to try and get aubergines which have few seeds, these are normally firmer, and also not to be tempted to cut the chunks too small or they will take on too much oil.

As with most stew-like things, its flavours improve overnight so make it the day before and whether you are using it as part of this dish or as a salad it will be worth the wait. There looks like there is a lot to this dish but it is SO simple, plus if the caponata is done the day before you only need to reheat it and meanwhile prep the seafood. You could serve this in summer or winter maybe adding some more spice and sweetness for extra warmth in winter .

 

serves 4 with plenty of Caponata left over for the next day!

Caponata

1kg aubergines, in 2cm dice

500g celery and their leaves, roughly chopped

2 onions, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes

350g green pitted olives

40g salted capers

40ml red wine vinegar (I used a good sherry vinegar which worked really well)

1tbsp caster sugar

400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes

90g basil

100ml olive oil

  • Salt the aubergines in a colander for 15mins, meanwhile prep the other ingredients. Rinse well and dry with kitchen towel.
  • Heat most of the oil in a large casserole dish and on a high heat brown the aubergines in batches. Remove and set aside. Adding more oil to pan if too dry.
  • Reduce the heat to low and wait for olive oil to cool down a bit before adding the onions and celery with their leaves too. Soften for 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic for 2 minutes before returning the aubergines and adding the tomatoes, olives and capers (reserve a few olives and capers to add at the end for a different texture and to garnish plate). Season and cook gently on a low heat for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix the vinegar and sugar together in a small pan, bring to the boil and remove from heat. This should hold a pleasant sweet and sour taste, if not add either to your preference. Add to the stew and cook for a further hour stirring occasionally.
  • 5 minutes before the end add the olives, capers, basil (reserving some leaves) and cooked mussels (see below) and check seasoning.

Cod

4 fillets with skin

olive oil

salt

  • Heat the oil until smoking in a heavy bottomed pan, salt the fillets well on both sides add skin side down and sear on high heat for 2 minutes before carefully turning over for another minute. Remove and set aside.

Mussels

500g mussels

1 glass white wine

1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered

  • Clean mussels thoroughly under cold water using a small knife or hard brush. Discard broken shells and close open ones by tapping  fairly hard 3 times with the back of a knife, if not closing discard them.
  • Bring wine to boil in large pan with garlic and a splash of water over a high heat, add mussels and cover with lid, shaking the pan well every 30 seconds until all the shells are open. Drain and discard unopened shells.
  • Remove half of the mussels from the shells (optional) and add to Caponata 5 minutes before finished cooking.
Gremolata (optional)
hanful of parsley, finely chopped
zest of one lemon
  • combine parsley and lemon
To plate, lay fillet skin side down and spoon over caponata and mussels. Scatter remaining olives, capers and basil leaves and spoon over some gremolata. SERVE.
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