Ever since I posted my Eggplant – A Mini Glut post, and Robin reminded me of its existence, I’ve become mildly obsessed with caponata. A useful obsession given I have quite a lot of eggplant in the garden at the moment. Up until a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t cooked caponata in ages and as a result decided it might be useful to have a look at a few recipes. A quick search on Eat Your Books revealed that I am the proud owner of at least 7 caponata recipes, one of which is in Jamies’ Italy book and another is in Nigella’s book – Forever Summer. Thus the Nigella vs Jamie battle was conceived. Well the title is how I envisioned this post to be – an ever so fascinating comparison of Nigella Lawson & Jamie Olivers caponata recipes. The reality is a little different. I cooked Jamies’ recipe last week, but then when I came to cook Nigella’s I read the words: “this is Anna del Conte’s version from her revised and expanded Gastronomy of Italy…”. So really this is Jamie vs Anna but as its in Nigella’s book I still think its OK to attribute it to her as well. In retrospect I should/could have cooked Stephanie Alexander and Nigel Slater versions of the dish which might have been more appropriate as both are kitchen garden exponents but I didn’t so we are left with Nigella and Jamie.
Before I discuss their dishes I should point out that I am slightly predisposed to having Jamie Oliver win any battle with Nigella. This is partially because although both can be extremely irritating, I find Jamie slightly less so. But mainly this is because I have never cooked a dish I really really liked from one of Nigella’s books and I’ve cooked plenty from Jamies.
Nigel Slater describes caponata as a rich sweet-sour stew and that is how I’ve remembered it tasting on the previous occasions I’ve eaten it. I also remembered it having sultanas in it but neither Jamie or Nigella’s recipes contained any. Aside from the lack of sultanas Jamie and Nigella’s look quite different. Jamie’s has garlic, Nigella’s doesn’t. Nigella’s has lots of celery, Jamie’s doesn’t – this is at odds with every other caponata recipe I’ve seen before and since, they all include celery. Jamie’s has lots of parsley and oregano, Nigella’s does include any herbs. Finally Nigella’s includes chocolate and sugar whilst Jamie’s doesn’t include any sweeteners.
I made Jamie’s recipe first. I really enjoyed it – a lovely combination of eggplant, tomato, parsley, capers (although I would use less next time) and olives. Delicious but lacking the sweet-sour quality I was looking for. I would definitely make his dish again but I’m not sure I would call it caponata if I did – but perhaps I’m being too picky.
I made Nigella’s dish today. Whilst I tried to follow the recipe to the letter a couple of problems meant that I wasn’t able to follow it completely. First one of the eggplants I picked had grubs in it, meaning I had to reduce the eggplant quantity significantly. I only realised this after I’d made the tomato sauce so it was rather more tomatoey than she intended. I also reduced the amount of capers, her recipe called for 4 tablespoons which I thought was pretty excessive. I like capers but 4 tablespoons is a lot and they aren’t that cheap so I ended up using about half the suggested quantity. Finally the only dark chocolate I had had almonds in it but given almonds appear in some caponata recipes I didn’t think that would be too big an issue.
I enjoyed Nigella’s dish, it was rich (perhaps slightly too rich if anything) and sweet-sour. The eggplant was delicious. I wasn’t that keen on the celery though. The recipe suggested that the celery be cut to the same size as the eggplant which meant there were quite large chunks in the dish. If I was to make it again I would include the celery but cut it finely and use it to flavour the sauce rather than as one of the vegetables in the dish. Caponata does tend to improve overnight so I’m quite looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow.
All in all, and loathe as I am to say it, as a battle for the best caponata recipe Nigella won the day. Which is not to say I enjoyed her dish more just that it was more like Caponata as I am familiar with it. I don’t think either is the perfect caponata recipe. Perhaps Stephanie or Nigel can claim that honour. Not sure if I need to find out though – I’ll probably just make my own version now. I’ll include lots of: eggplant fried until its golden, tomatoes, onions, garlic, finely chopped celery, capers, olives, a grating or two of chocolate, white wine vinegar, a touch of sugar and topped with loads of parsley. Maybe I’ll put some sultanas and capsicum in too. The kids, at least, with eat the sultanas, that and the olives – oh well more eggplant for me.
To see what is coming out of other kitchens this week head over to the Gardener of Eden’s place.