This year marks 20 years since bestselling cookbook author and Emmy-nominated TV host Katie Parla packed up her life in New Jersey and headed to the fertile and ancient land of Italy.
She chased the flavors of her upbringing to their roots, soaking up time-honored traditions and familial recipes at every turn. Now, she’s sharing some of what she learned in her seventh cookbook, Food of the Italian Islands.
Featuring 85 recipes and 120 photographs, its an authentic exploration of the beaches, coastal villages and hillside flavors of Sicily, Sardinia and more. It’s absolutely worth the purchase, but as a little taste test, Parla has agreed to share her recipe for Caponata (or sweet-and-sour eggplant with celery, capers and olives) below.
An excerpt from her book follows:
“Sicily’s famous sweet-and-sour relish may be most associated with eggplant—it is the main ingredient—but when I was learning to make caponata, my teacher Giacomo reprimanded me for not giving the celery its due. I didn’t take it personally. One of the main ways I have learned about traditional cooking in Sicily (and everywhere else in Italy) has been through being shamed about not knowing the exact way to make something according to that particular family’s traditions.
Celery delivers so much more flavor and structure to the caponata than the eggplant, so I was listening. Next, he admonished me for using too much tomato, which he told me was a recent addition dating back only a century and a half, at most. And he had read a theory that the original recipe featured fish and that eggplant was used as a substitute by peasants (not unlike in the melanzane a quaglia recipe on page 55), giving us the now common eggplant version.
This recipe uses very little tomato, relying on vinegar for an acidic note. I prepare caponata at least a day ahead to ensure all the flavors have married and mellowed.”
This recipe serves six and is an absolute delight on breezy summer nights and days alike. Enjoy it as the Italians do, with friends and family close at hand, and a smile on your face.
Photography by: Courtesy of Katie Parla; Ed Anderson