Donna Folgarelli’s cooking classes are interactive. Standing around and sipping some sparkling (hopefully vegan) wine while asking questions about dicing techniques is not really the way it goes. Wendy and I were outed as the plant-based dieters early in the evening, and after we admitted disdain for handling meat, we were left chopping all the veggies.
Chef John Piombo, the executive chef of Nona’s at Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, taught me how to prepare a caponata. This is an Sicilian appetizer ordinarily eaten with flatbreads, but any tortilla would substitute easily.
Wendy and I diced two large eggplants first. By the way, working with Wendy is hilarious. She writes a comic strip, On the Spin Cycle, and has a natural ease and humor that is easy to relax into. We salted the eggplant for about 30 minutes, and then fried the eggplants in a little light olive oil, draining them on paper towel. I ate more eggplant in raw diced form than in the caponata. Don’t tell anyone. I think the guy stirring the risotto busted me a couple of times but he kept it to himself.
While the eggplant was frying in batches, several stalks of diced celery were simmering in salted water.
Finally, we cooked a diced onion until clear with brown edges starting to form, then added the eggplant and the drained cooked celery. The veggies were sprinkled with 4 tablespoons of sugar and allowed to caramelize for four minutes. Then, 4 tablespoons of vinegar were added. Voila! Caponata. Donna says this is her favorite thing for dinner. I like it warm, but I took the leftovers home and found that room temperature or cool from the fridge was quite satisfactory too. In Sicily it is served room temperature.
A gal who wasn’t paying attention could use a little too much oil in the preparation, just warning you. I think you could simmer the eggplant in broth or water to create a very healthy dish. Enjoy your Sicilian vegan treat!