Elaine Natoli’s Caponatina, Sicilian-Style

My back-fence neighbor Elaine Natoli was a wonder, as I tried to capture in a remembrance of her. Besides having one of the driest senses of humor on the planet, she was infinitely kind to me when she had no reason to be. 

Her death left her husband Joe completely wrecked. Fortunately, Joe is still willing sometimes to have me over for dinner so we can still argue like the ex-New Yorkers we are and imagine Elaine telling us both to shut up. 

Even more fortunately, Elaine left behind many of her recipes. The last time I was with Joe, he made this one – Elaine’s caponatina, Sicilian-style. I asked him for the recipe and asked him if it was okay to share. He said yes. Here you go.

I’m attaching photos of Elaine’s recipe cards so you can see the original. As you can see if you compare her original to mine, below, I’ve had to interpret the instructions a little bit to make them clear to a novice, but I think I have them right.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggplants (do not peel!)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1.5 cups olive oil
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • ½ cup strained tomatoes (Joe says, “Whole tomatoes blended. Never diced or crushed.”)
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • ½ cup capers
  • ½ cup green olives, pitted and sliced
  • ½ cup wine vinegar (Joe says, “8% vinegar is the heart of it. That’s the don Bruno.” See photo below.)
  • ¼ to ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper

Instructions:

  1. Dice the eggplant. Salt well all over with kosher salt and place in colander to drain, about ½ hour. Rinse well in cold water and drain.
  2. Fry eggplant in oil and remove the browned eggplant to a deep saucepan.
  3. In a frying pan (you could use the same one you used to cook the eggplant), cook the chopped onions slowly, cooking until soft.
  4. Add to the onions the strained tomatoes and chopped celery and cook until celery is soft.
  5. Add to the same frying pan the capers, olives, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Pour all of that sauce over the fried eggplant (which should now be in a deep saucepan, per instruction #2).
  7. Heat the vinegar and dissolve the sugar in it. (You can do this in a microwave.) Pour that into the sauce and the eggplant.
  8. Cook very slowly, about 15 minutes, stirring very carefully.
  9. Serve warm or room temperature with good bread.
Joe showed me the vinegars he’s been using. The one on the right was for the eggplant. The one on the left he used for the salad greens he grabbed from the garden.