Lockdown Staple no. 1: Beautiful Sicilian Stew

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Darlings. It’s taken me a long time to put fingers to keys again, and craft all you hungry people another entertaining recipe. This is for one reason in particular: I’ve actually been doing far too much cooking to even know where to begin in terms of writing things up. I don’t know what’s useful to people at the moment; I’m not sure what the climate is surrounding the consumption of animals, and I’m certainly not about to write up a recipe for some of the things I’ve been cooking of late (this is because I’ve had access to a very good value butcher called Bert who’s managed to wangle me some fabulous cuts of meat including a fore-rib of and a leg of lamb, among other delights, for low-low prices. Not exactly student cuisine. Ahem.)

So what I’ve decided to do is write up some cheap and reliable recurring favourites from my lockdown household – recipes that have fed at least 5 hungry mouths more than once. I hope you enjoy this first installment which is actually a joint recipe effort from myself and my absolute favourite parsnip, Lewis. It’s our version of caponata, a famous sicilian aubergine stew: rich, simple and authentic. This is adapted by the pair of us on separate occasions from Jamie Oliver and BBC Good Food, with different additions and subtractions and multiplications for each version so that we’ve come up with a foolproof way of making it with substitutions for stuff that’s not necessarily readily available. It’s also accidentally vegan.

Also, before we started cooking this, neither of us were massive fans of the old phallic nightshade. But it turns out, ladles and gentlespoons, if you soak anything in enough olive oil and salt, it eventually becomes delicious. Here we go.

You’re gonna need:

  • 2 large or 3 smaller aubergines
  • half a mug of olive oil, possibly more…
  • 4 shallots if you can find them, or 2 white or red onions if you can’t
  • a few cloves of garlic (optional – the italians never use garlic and onion in the same dish)
  • a handful of capers, or if your taste buds are only infantile, some green olives, halved. If your palate is exceedingly immature, you may leave these two delicious morsels out. You can also add both if you’re a culinary chad.
  • a glass of red wine
  • another glass of red wine because you’ve probably drunk the first one upon pouring it
  • half a mug of EITHER (in order of authenticity): red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar OR malt vinegar. The point is: you need acidity.
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes or peeled plum tomatoes.
  • Some tomato paste
  • Dried oregano
  • A good handful of fresh basil, if you want.
  • Pine nuts, if the budget allows. Lightly toast them for the best flavour.
  • Salt and pepper

What ya do

Pour your olive oil into a large, deep saucepan – it should definitely cover the bottom and come up the sides about 1/2 a centimeter or so. Put the heat on medium and roughly chop your aubergines. Add them to the pan along with salt, black pepper and oregano and fry them, stirring often, until the oil has soaked in and there’s a little bit of golden brown colouring on the flesh.

Just as the aubergines are colouring, remove them from the pan and put aside in a bowl or something  – you’ll want them again in just a minute. There should be a small amount of olive oil left in the pan. Finely chop and fry your shallots/onions in this, adding more oil if necessary, and cover until they’re translucent and cooked through. Add the aubergines back into back into the pan and fry a little longer. Next, add your tins of chopped tomatoes, breaking up any plum ones with a spoon as you go. Add a good pinch of salt now, and a grinding of black pepper. Squeeze in 2 big spoonfuls of tomato paste, add the glass of red wine, stir and simmer for as long as you like – this could be any time up to three years, or about 15 minutes. If it’s looking a little dry, add a splash of water from the kettle – it depends on your tinned tomato moistness. Once the alcohol from the wine has evaporated, add in the capers and olives if using, and then pour in your vinegar. It should smell really sour at this point, and have a good acidic top note when you taste it, but with a deep richness underneath. Good lord, I sound like a massive twat. Anyway. Adjust for seasonings (does it need more salt? Or perhaps it’s too acidic and you need a splash of olive oil? Or *gasp* a cheeky tablespoon of pesto – don’t tell Lewis I said that) and when you’re happy, let it simmer – uncovered – for the last 10 minutes of cooking. To serve, stir through the pine nuts, if you’re using them, and scatter over the basil.

This should be noshed with sexy bread, as a side to some meat or white fish. Naturally it can also be eaten by itself too – a dusting of parmesan or pecorino wouldn’t go amiss either.

Next time, so that I’m held completely accountable for it: Baked Mediterranean Chicken thighs with Olives and Feta. I’m on a bit of Mediterranean roll at the moment – it’s a ciabatta.



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