What does an off-site Sicilian do when the eggplants are no longer in season and the desire for caponata is very strong? The answer is: Sicilian pumpkin caponata. Today's recipe is about me, of my wonderful island and the nostalgia of a place and a season: the place is obviously Sicily and the season is summer. As you know, after the long spring lockdown i spent two months at home, i enjoyed my land, the sea, my parents and that family atmosphere that I missed so much. Autumn, season that I have always loved, however, represents the moment of return to Rome, to daily life and Sicily immediately starts to miss me again. The easiest way to take her with me all the time is at the table, with family recipes but also with colored ceramics, with ingredients and flavors that come from my island.
Eggplant, artichokes, apples and pumpkin: every season has its caponata
So, in this pumpkin caponata there are pistachios purchased this summer in Bronte, pickled olives with the scent of wild fennel prepared last autumn, tropea onion, Pantelleria capers, raisins (the 'passulina’ Palermo) and pine nuts and of course sweet and sour, so evocative of our cuisine. I made this recipe when Messina Beer Salt Crystals asked me how I, that I live in Rome, can always feel connected to my roots.
The answer for me is obvious: cooking and contributing in my small way to spread and enhance Sicilian cuisine in the world. So I decided to prepare an ancient recipe, that I knew only from my grandmother's tales: when eggplants end, told me, in Palermo the caponata was prepared equally in three ways. With APPLES, sweetly delicious, with ARTICHOKES, with the most decisive taste. Or finally with the pumpkin in a white variant, without the tomato. On the other hand, the PUMPKIN SWEET & SOUR is one of the most loved autumn sicilian side dishes.
What variety of pumpkin to use for pumpkin caponata
And here I bought a pumpkin and tried to walk the path indicated by my grandmother's stories. The result is extraordinary, Believe me. I recommend using the pumpkin varieties padana round, Violina, Neapolitan pumpkin or in any case a type of pumpkin that after frying remains firm and crunchy. The secret of this dish is, in my opinion, proceed exactly as you do for the traditional EGGPLANT CAPONATA.
I cut the pumpkin into regular and not too small touches and fried it in immersion. I made the dip for caponata with celery, Onion, oil, Capers, pickled olives and a pinch of chilli to counteract the sweetness of the pumpkin and I blended with red wine vinegar and sugar. Compared to the traditional recipe of eggplant caponata, there are some small variants: there are chili and mint, that enhance the pumpkin, and there's no tomato, because its acidity doesn't match well with pumpkin. Instead of almonds, I put the pistachios and I confess that I did it mainly because I like the color contrast between the orange pumpkin and the Bronte pistachio (green and purple). Don't forget that all sweet and sour dishes must be prepared in advance (even 24 hours) and that are enjoyed at room temperature, never hot.
Beer and sweet and sour, perfect match
Messina Crystals salt beer paired with Sicilian pumpkin caponata is really perfect. As you know, sweet and sour and wine definitely don't get along (for the presence of tannins), while the beer, with its hoppy taste, the alcohol content, the final bitter note and that pinch of salt of the salt pans of Trapani contrasts, and balances, the sweetness of the pumpkin. And so, between a mouthful of pumpkin caponata and a sip of fresh beer, Sicily is closer. Have a good day.
2 kilograms of pumpkin (variety: Violina, Neapolitan, padana round)
green olives in brine, to taste
2 red onions of Tropea PgI
3 sticks of celery (only the heart)
a handful of Corinth raisins
pine nuts, to taste
pistachios from Bronte PDO, to taste
fresh mint, to taste
a handful of pantelleria capers in salt
a small piece of chili pepper
Salt, to taste
60 ml red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Peanut seed oil or high oleic sunflower for frying, to taste
Making pumpkin caponata is very simple. Remember, though, that sweet and sour recipes are better if prepared in advance, even 24 hours. Wash the pumpkin, cut it into thick slices, remove the Peel (that you can season with oil, Salt, spices and bake in the oven at 200 degrees until it becomes crispy: it's as good as and more than chips). Cut the pumpkin into regular pieces of the same size, not too small.
Salt the pumpkin and fry in immersion. Use peanut seed oil or high oleic sunflower oil. Fry until the pumpkin is tender and golden on all sides. Drain the pumpkin. Use absorbent paper, to eliminate excess oil.
Clean the onions and make not very thin slices. Peel the celery and remove the filamentous parts. Cut the celery into slices of about half a centimeter. Remember to use only the heart of celery: if you only have the outer coasts, harder, it's good to blanch them for a few seconds so they're softer. Cut the olives into slices, removing the core.
In a large saucepan, put a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the chili, onions and celery. Add three or four tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat until the celery and onion have become slightly translucent. Add raisins and pine nuts. Add the capers and olives. Taste and salt lightly. Cook for a few more minutes and, then, add vinegar with sugar. Mix well so that the sugar melts. When the vinegar is shaded, combine the fresh mint.
Put the pumpkin in a serving dish. Pour over the sweet and sour seasoning still hot. Mix gently with two tablespoons, so as to distribute the seasoning. Allow to cool. Store sicilian pumpkin caponata, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature or in the refrigerator. If you store it in the refrigerator, remember to bring it back to room temperature before you taste it. In a pan, lightly toast bronte pistachios, so they are crisp. Sprinkle the pumpkin caponata with fresh mint and Bronte pistachios. Bon appétit!