Nigella vs Jamie – The Battle of the Caponata’s

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.

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29 Responses to Nigella vs Jamie – The Battle of the Caponata’s

  1. Robin says:

    I have tried a couple of different caponata recipes over the years. The best and only one that I now make is from “The Silver Spoon”. “The Italian” and his family have decided that it is a very authentic recipe.

    Nigella’s recipe sounds great with the addition of chocolate. I have to agree with you on the amount of capers and size of the celery. Capers can be so so salty.

  2. Daphne says:

    Though eggplant isn’t really my thing, I do like the idea of comparing the recipes. I have a really hard time following a recipe though. My intentions are good, but I can’t help but change it.

    • Liz says:

      I am a good follower – provided I rate the writer, otherwise I just change things half way through which can be a bit hit and miss. I would like to be able to cook all the classic vegetable recipes really well so I like the idea of finding the best recipe for each. Might take quite some time though…. I do think that through trying different recipes you can learn quite a lot about what works from a cooking perspective though.

  3. kitsapFG says:

    Well that was fun! I like the battle of recipes approach. 😀

    Dont’ grow eggplant anymore because I am the only one that will eat it and a little goes such a long ways for me. The Nigella’s recipe does sound interesting though!

    • Liz says:

      Maybe a nice little pot plant…they are attractive plants. But then I know how annoying it is cooking something that just you will eat…

  4. I love this idea. I think you should now go back and compare some other recipes and let us know what you think. I love eggplant, though I can’t say I have eaten much caponata. I will have to try it if I get a good harvest.

    BTW, the pictures of both look absolutely scrumptious and I love that your picture included the book in the background. I think I would probably like Jamie’s better (by your description.)

    I looked for a recipe for eggplant pickles or chutney after reading your Top 5 post about that. The only recipes I found were more Italian in flavor than spicy and Asian. Still, however, it was a nice thing to add to my growing eggplant recipe collection. (Another thing I hope to make this year. I guess I am hoping for a bountiful harvest.)

    My favorite recipe with eggplants is Eggplant Ravioli.

    • Liz says:

      I am thinking of doing this more regularly, with ‘classic’ recipes. Try searching for brinjal pickle – this should bring up lots of Indian style eggplant pickle recipes. I will try and post one – but I haven’t made a particular recipe often enough to be confident posting one yet.

  5. Mark Willis says:

    Yes, I also find Nigella irritating! I’m never convinced that she has actually made some of her recipes. Give me Jamie any day – but then Nigel Slater is even better, because not only does he now grow some of his own veg, but also (importantly) he can WRITE. His descriptions of food are appealing, even without tasting the food itself.

    • Liz says:

      I agree with you regarding being dubious about her making her recipes. I’ve twice cooked a chocolate cake from one of her books that she describes as unctuous (what doesn’t she describe that way?) and quite frankly its dry, not very interesting and an awfully long way from being unctuous…

  6. I find both Nigella and Jamie to be irritating and agree with Mark much prefer Nigel! Did you see Toast the story of his life?

    • Liz says:

      No I didn’t, I take it I should seek it out? I have a few of his books but have rarely cooked from them. Time I started really.

  7. becky3086 says:

    I have no idea what caponata is or the two people you mention or the one Mark mentions.

  8. I like your idea of comparing dishes. Personally, I like Jamie’s recipes they are more rustic. But as you said it was missing sour and sweet taste which you wanted so definitely Nigella ‘s recipe shines here.

  9. Andrea says:

    Lucky you to have a glut of eggplants I’m yet to have any success growing them.
    I do like the sound of caponata (another meal to cook when hubby is away or eating fish fingers for tea !) and the meal looks so appealing in your lovely blue bowl.

    • Liz says:

      Dad (who lives up your way) grows his in the hothouse although he did have some success with a Bonica plant in the ground this year. The Lebanese varieties tend to want a longer warm season than he gets. I guess this is the issue for you? Have you tried starting them as seedlings?

      • Andrea says:

        I think that may be the trick to buy healthy seedlings early and then plant out when threat of frost is over.

  10. I love your caponatas, perfect and healthy meal. We make it without capers and olives though, can I still call it caponata?

    • Liz says:

      Hmmm not sure – I believe there are recipes without olives but I’ve never seen one without capers. Perhaps you could call it caponataish.

  11. leduesorelle says:

    Thanks for the Nigella – Jamie throw down! Like you, I haven’t had much success with Nigella’s recipes, and no longer have any of her cookbooks. I have several of Jamie’s, but really only use “Cook Your Way to the Good Life”. I’m with Mark, and prefer Nigel Slater to either — highly recommend “Kitchen Diaries” and his new one, “Tender: Vegetables”. As for eggplant, we always look forward to having the Sicilian dish, Pasta Norma, and reserve most of the caponata stashed in the freezer for later…

    • Liz says:

      I have Tender but have yet to cook from it. I will give it a go. I understand why you got rid of the Nigella books they really aren’t very good in experience, I have two and despite my best efforts I’ve failed to get really excited about anything I’ve cooked from either.

  12. Karin says:

    I love eggplants and followed a recipe by Antonio Carluccio today. Very simple to make, great Taste. I like his mof mof approach – Minimum of Fuss, Maximum of Flavor.

    The idea to add Black chocolate, some Piments and raisins sounds devine – maybe next time.

  13. Pam says:

    Suggestion re the Celery. Use the more tender sticks between the heart and the outside. Cut them into 2cm lengths and cut lengthwise for more narrow pieces. Much to my surprise the celery was one of the best things about my caponata, each piece providing a slightly crunch burst of flavour. I used Stephanie’s recipe & varied it because I hadn’t planned to make it & didn’t have all ingredients. Used a champagne vinegar and a mixture of olives. (also didn’t have time to make up capers, so added some home pickled green baby tomatoes & a very small quant of not too hot green pickled jalapeños) Go Stephanie and celery.

  14. ====Between Nigella and Jamie, I can just stand Nigella,,but Jamie ! I switch off straight away, that 15 minutes program is really crap…….As for you my dear you are also crap……….you deal with Caponata as if its the most difficult recipe on the planet,,,lets face it its only a stew and if its done with less fuss the tastier it is …and lets face it again……there are ”TOO MANY CHEFS ON T.V.COOKING THE SAME DISHES” bye sweetie…..Querino

  15. Alexandra Gillett says:

    I’ve just cooked Nigel Slater’s version of caponata, and I reckon it beats the others hands down.

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