My first Thanksgiving with my new wife’s family. My wife is famous for her pumpkin pie, her mincemeat pie and her sweet potato cupcakes – all made with traditional New World ingredients setting off “Olde England” traditions. They are gracious, my wife’s family. They suggest I bring a traditional Thanksgiving dish of my own. I agree.
“What are you bringing?” they query.
“A lovely concoction of eggplant and other things.”
“An old family recipe I learned from my landlady in Naples”
“That’s not traditional.”
“Depends of where the tradition originates. For me the tradition of being thankful originated when I was living in Naples.”
I was an art student wandering through the churches and museums of the most artful city in the world. I had rented a small apartment in an old palazzo in Via Pisanelli and often Gina the landlady would invite me to come down to her apartment for dinner.
In Naples Thanksgiving Day is just another Thursday. The day before I had attended a sculpting class and afterward I wandered around the Historic Center looking at guglie.
I had never been one for sentiment, but something about the chill that had only just now crept into the air and the recent appearance of chestnuts in the open air markets made me thing of roast turkey and stuffing.
There was no question of returning “home” for Thanksgiving – no time and no money foreclosed that option. So when Gina asked me why I looked sad, I told her about Thanksgiving and said I felt the lack of celebration that year.
“Tomorrow we will have something special for dinner,” she promised.
Gina was famous for her caponata. Every guest who came to dinner requested it. It was always a little different every time she made it. When asked for the recipe, Gina willingly gave it, but because she always improvised, so that when her friends made caponata it was always different from hers.
The next day, Thanksgiving, Gina went to her favorite vegetable market in the Spanish Quarter.
I brought Gina a swordfish steak from the market on Via dei Tribunali,
and hung around her kitchen and watched her while she prepared that and the caponata. All the while we sipped some excellent Lagrima Christi.
Since I have a very good visual memory, I was able to duplicate the Thanksgiving caponata and it has been my traditional offering ever since:
First, cover the bottom of a heavy 2-quart pot with olive oil (about 1/2 cup) and heat it. When a drop of water sprinkled on the oil sizzles, it is time to add oregano, red pepper and parsley – lots of it – and a little salt. (All this is to suit your taste.)
Next in this mixture of oil and herbs sauté 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 ribs of celery and ½ green pepper, all chopped up. Cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent.
Add 4 medium salad tomatoes, chopped.
When the tomatoes have melted and the mixture seems like a sauce, add one medium eggplant, diced in about one-inch pieces. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The time it takes depends on the eggplant, but it’s usually ½ to 1 hour.
When eggplant is cooked, add 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of raisins, 2 tablespoons of capers in brine, and ½ cup olives, green and/or black. Cook another 10 minutes just to let the flavors blend.
If you let the caponata sit several hours before serving it, the flavor improves. You can even prepare it the day before.
I am thankful to Gina for this delicious dish and for all the other wonderful things she made for me.
I told my wife’s family that I am famous for my Thanksgiving caponata, but I never give out the recipe.
© Antoinette Carone 2016