A few weeks ago we spent the most blissful week on that gorgeous Italian island called Sardinia. In fact, we spent it on an island, off the island, called La Maddalena.
It's a sleepy place with pretty beaches reached by a short ferry ride from the main island of Sardinia. It has a little town full of gelaterias, pizzerias and little trattorias that specialise in seafood as well as the fabulous delis that specialise in traditional Sardinian foods.
We stayed in a lovely villa overlooking a little bay, just a 3 minute walk from a dreamy little beach with its own stone jetty that was perfect for jumping off into the warm silky water. My biggest goal for the week was to swim at least 5 times a day. One which I rather smugly can say I absolutely achieved.
I mean look at that view..
As we were 6 people & the place was so delightful we mostly spent the days lazing around the villa, eating copious amounts of Sardinian delicacies, gorgeous fresh fruit & veggies and of course, wine.. and Prosecco... and local beer... and more wine, stopping only for a quick swim or a visit to the town for more provisions.
We were all completely beguiled by the abundance of fresh veggies, the local fruit monger (called delightfully & aptly Paradiso di Fruta) had piles of of glossy peppers & aubergines, tomatoes and olives, as well as mounds of fresh apricots, peaches & melons. Despite there being 6 of us, I somehow went a little overboard with the amount of delicious produce purchased, and just like the summer glut that we all are about to experience in our gardens, I had to do something or it would go to waste.
And that something was going to be a version of that classic Mediterranean dish, ratatouille.
The idea was to make something that we could use spooned over pasta, or slightly warm to dip bread into whilst we sipped wine & watched the sunset. I knew it would require a little effort over the stove, but that's something I'm more than willing to do if I know it means easy food for later.
The brilliant thing is, I had a real Sardinian with us (Hi AGAIN Raffaella- Maybe I should start a section on here called Raffa's Recipes! >< ) who steered me in a more Sardinian version of this classic dish, and so the initial idea became a much more appropriate Sardinian Caponata.
According to Raffa , traditionally Caponata in Sardinia is made not only copious amounts of peppers & aubergines, it also uses local capers & olives & currants- and sometimes a tomato or two. I didn't have any currants, but I did have tomatoes. I also had fresh bay leaves from a tree planted outside the villa and some lush olive oil & local dried oregano to add to the flavours.
I love how recipes like this are variations on a theme, with changes made from region to region and even from kitchen to kitchen. The instructions passed on, improved on and adjusted according to taste and what is available at the time. So please, don't be scared to omit something, or add a little extra. The spirit of a dish like this is to use a glut, to use up what is there, to make a dish that is so more than a sum of its parts, always slightly different, and all the more delicious for it.
Take the quantities I specify in the recipe below as a guide only, but if you see some peppers and an aubergine looking glossy at the market- use them. If you have a courgette (or 10!) growing in your garden, I used a few in this recipe too. Or not. The capers and olives add a lovely extra depth of flavour, but use just one.. or the other... or omit altogether.
This dish does take a long slow simmer on the stove, but the rewards are completely worth the hot effort. Make a vat full and use it up over a few days. It improves on standing, the flavours melding into one anotehr gorgeously. It freezes well too, perfect for a quick supper, or in the dead of winter to pull out & reheat for a lush reminder of warmer days.
Delicious flavours of the Mediterranean meld together to become a glorious stew.
- 1 large Aubergine (Eggplant) Chopped into 1cm cubes
- 3-4 Medium Red Peppers Deseeded & Chopped into 1 square pieces
- 1-2 Medium Courgettes (Zucchini) Chopped into 1cm cubes
- 2 Medium Tomatoes Chopped into 1cm cubes
- 4-5 Tbs Olive Oil
- 3 Tbs Capers roughly chopped
- 1 Tbs Tomato Paste
- 3 Tbs Olives (Stones out) chopped
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- ½ cup red wine (optional but nice)
- 4-5 cloves garlic
In a deep and wide saucepan add half the olive oil and peppers, sautee over a medium heat for 5 minutes
Add the aubergine, adding a little extra oil and sautee for another 10 mins until the aubergine softens (Nobody likes undercooked aubergine, so keep going until its really cooked!)
Add the courgettes & garlic and cook for another 5 mins
Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano and tomato paste and put the lid on the saucepan, simmer for 10 mins
Add the wine (if using) or a little water, capers and olives and simmer for another 15 mins
Check.- At this stage the vegetables should all start collapsing, the juices sort of squishing into each other. If it isn't quite to the squishy level desired, cook a little longer.
Taste for salt and pepper & add as needed. Serve with a little drizzle of olive oil.
This is delicious the next day, served at room temperature. Or serve over a pasta or as part of a mezze type lunch, with plenty of bread to dip into it.