Caponata di Carciofi
Mention the word Caponata and I think most Italians will begin to salivate.
Firstly, the name immediately evokes a sense the south and Sicily in particular. Caponata is traditionally a large combination of ingredients tossed together and the most traditional of all is the Caponata di Melanzane, or Aubergine Caponata, Eggplant Caponata. But Sicilians certainly boast some of the best artichokes and most interesting artichoke dishes in Italy and they can easily replace the aubergine with the addition of tomato, onion, olives and capers, to make the artichoke equivalent of the traditional Caponata.
On an extensive Sicilian antipasto buffet you may also find another Artichoke Caponata which, in my opinion, is saturated with the essence of Sicilian cuisine, agrodolce, or sweet and sour. In reality these types of dishes will keep for a few days as the use of vinegar used to be (and still is) a common way to peserve food. With the addition of a sweet component like sultanas you have punchy highlights of flavour which contrast the sourness of the vinegar.
This dish combines a handful of ingredients that you will find most kitchens and can be thrown together rather quickly to make a really tasty antipasto or be prepared the day before so as the combination of ingredients have a little time to settle with each other and mellow. You’ll do yourself a favour if you have the time to leave it overnight and serve it the next day.
Ingredients (serves 6)
1 medium sized celery
1 large handful of sultanas
1 small handful of pinenuts
1 small bunch of mint
1 clove of garlic
1 lge tablespoon of sugar
1 small glass of white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Firstly soak the sultanas in a bowl of warm water so that they regain some plumpness and set aside.
Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.
Clean and wash the celery by removing the leaves and trimming off the bottoms. Rinse under water to remove any dirt.
Cut the celery roughly into pieces of 2.5cm / 1 inch.
Visually, the mound of celery you now have should roughly match the amount of artichokes you have. If anything there should be a little less celery.
Once your water is boiling throw in the celery to boil until al dente.
Remove the celery from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain well.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan with a clove of garlic.
Allow the garlic to gain a golden brown colour before removing from the pan.
Add the drained celery to the frying pan and beging frying on a moderate heat.
Add the artichokes to the boiling water and cook til al dente.
Once they are al dente, drain the artichokes well and add to them to the pan with the celery.
Also add the drained saltanas, pepper and most of the mint leaves. (I found it’s best to be generous with the mint)
Give the whole lot a few tosses in the pan to mix all the contents of the pan well.
Add the sugar to the pan and keep gently tossing until the sugar and the ingredients begin to caramelise.
Caramelising is heating sugar through until it browns in colour. You need to keep an eye on it as it may take a long time to gain colour initially, but the colouring increases incredibly fast in the final stages and there is a risk of burning the sugar and possiblly ending up with burnt sugar toffee artichokes.
Continue tossing and once you see the sugar and ingredients gain a healthy amount of caramel colour, splash the pan with the glass of vinegar.
Please use a good quality white wine vinegar as it will make all the difference when it comes eating.
Allow the vinegar to evapourate while tossing. It should evapourate rather quickly.
Throw in the pine nuts and give it one more toss to mix through.
Place onto a serving plate as a side dish or as part of an antipasto. Sprinkle with the remaining mint.
It is often served either warm or at room temperature and quite commonly served the following day.