One of my favorite things to do is to take cooking classes. Shocker I know. What I love about taking a class is learning new cooking techniques or ingredient combinations or secrets from other chefs that make them successful in presenting a meal, or, or, or….
So when I was in Sicily a few years ago I enrolled in a cooking class that included how to make caponata – a Sicilian specialty. I’ve made a lot of caponata since then because eggplant and zucchini are two favorite vegetables that are easy to grow in the garden or buy in the store. If you missed the original caponata recipe you can read it here.
This day I was reminiscing about the time we spent in Sicily and visiting my relatives in Bari, Italy. I’ll never forget the first time I saw my aunt and uncle at their house, the look of surprise when they saw us at their doorstep. You see, my older uncle had the dates mixed up when we were arriving so they were not expecting us until the following week.
We arrived about 5:00 pm (not dinner time in Italy), however, we were hungry because we had been traveling on the train for hours and missed lunch. The espresso and biscotti from breakfast left us on the empty side by this time of day. And, we knew that dinner wouldn’t be until about 10:00 pm that night.
Upon finding out that we hadn’t eaten, my aunt went straight to her kitchen and started cooking. What Italian auntie wouldn’t, right? She whipped up a simple dish of pasta with sardines, peppers, onions, and capers. No sauce, just olive oil drizzled over the ingredients with a few seasonings. It was amazing! She was serving it to us before we had a chance to sit down.
As we were lapping up this delicious pasta, my aunt and uncle were making phone calls to the relatives (this was a time before texting), and by 8:00 pm their house was full of aunties and cousins and more food of course! By 10:00 pm the rest of the relatives, neighbors, and friends had arrived with food in hand and we ate again, savoring each bite washed down with wine (of course). This food and family fest went on until after midnight.
Funny, that with all the food that was laid on the table that day/evening, the dish I remember most was the pasta that my aunt whipped up in her kitchen at 5:00 pm to feed the weary travelers.
This dish is conceived from my aunt’s pasta dish with some extra ingredients from the Sicilian caponata recipe. While I may be standing in my kitchen in Oregon making this recipe, my head and heart are in Italy!
If you don’t like sardines, you could leave them out of this recipe. I do like them and think they added a little zing to the meal.
This turned out delicious!
- 1 pound cooked pasta (I used angel hair)
- 1 3.5 oz can sardines in oil
- 1 medium to large eggplant, chopped into cubes (could substitute zucchini or yellow squash or use a combination of squashes and eggplant)
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium red pepper, chopped
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Peccorino reggiano for garnish
- Olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Drizzle olive oil in a fry pan. Sauté onions, pepper and eggplant until softened.
- Add pine nuts, raisins, and capers to the sautéed vegetables and cook for another minute or two.
- Break up the sardines with your fingers or a spoon and add (along with the oil from the sardine tin) to the fry pan and mix with vegetables. (You can break up the sardines into chunks or finely mash them - whatever your prefer.)
- Cook pasta until just shy of al dente. (It will continue to cook when sautéed with vegetables.)
- Drop cooked pasta into vegetables and sauté until all ingredients are combined.
- Season with salt and pepper and add more olive oil if needed.
- Sprinkle with cheese and serve.