After reading some alarming reports on how much producing a kilo of meat costs in terms of water, energy and general environmental impact - not to mention the danger of emptying our seas by overfishing them - I got really convinced of the fact that I can eat a lot less meat and fish and that in doing so I'm actually a very privileged person. Why? Because I LOVE vegetables and also because the Italian cuisine is rich of fantastic vegetarian dishes that do not make me miss meat and fish at all.
Cheese belongs to the things that need to be reduced too since it's part of the same intensive "production chain" where meat comes from and in spite of the fact that I adore it I had to reduce it considerably too because I recently developed an intolerance for lactose (the natural sugar contained in milk) which made me rethink my passion for cheese.
I still eat cheese (and I use a little trick to keep on doing that: before ingesting any dairy products I take lactase, the natural enzime that helps digest the lactose) but a lot less since I think there must be a reason why my body developed such an intolerance. To me it's a sign that I have to seriously reduce my cheese intake simply because it's not that healthy for me. And what a striking "coincidence" that I developed such intolerance in a period that I was eating WAY TOO MUCH cheese.
Reading yesterday's article by Lagusta Yearwood on The Guardian online made me appreciate even more the semi-vegetarian choice I made and the richness of my native cuisine.
In the article she mentions Sicilian caponata and so today I'm making this wonderful dish that I use a lot during my Sicilian cooking workshops. Actually the dish she talks about, made only with celery and aubergines, is the classic version they make in Palermo and some other places in Sicily. I tend to prefer the less classic one made with aubergine and bell peppers for its taste and for the beauty of its colours (I use red and yellow peppers).
Perfect preparation for a vegetarian meal and extremely versatile, this wonderful sweet and sour caponata can be used as a rich pasta sauce, as a good vegetable base for scrambled eggs or as a complete meal when enriched with abundant bread for the carbs and lots of pine-nuts for the necessary proteins.
Here is my recipe, enjoy!
Caponata di melanzane e peperoni (aubergine-pepper stew)
3 celery stalks, preferably with their leaves
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
40 gr green olives, pitted
2 tablespoons of capers preserved in salt or vinegar, well rinsed
3 tablespoons of pine-nuts
a bunch of basil leaves
5 tablespoons of vinegar
1 teaspoon of sugar
extravergine olive oil and salt
1 ciabatta bread
Balsamic vinegar plus 1 extra teaspoon of sugar
Wash the aubergines and cut them in chunks. Lay them in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to rest for about 15 minutes, rinse under the tap and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Slice the bread, brush it with olive oil and lay in the oven at 200°C until golden brown.
Fry the finely chopped onions in abundant olive oil together with the coarsely chopped celery, the chopped tomatoes (seeds removed), the peppers in chunks, the olives and the capers. Add a bit of salt and leave to cook on a low flame until the celery becomes soft.
aubergine chunks in abundant olive oil. Once they’re well cooked add them to the rest of the
vegetables together with the shredded basil.
Leave to cook on a low flame for 10 more minutes.
sugar and vinegar together and add to the caponata. Stir, let the mixture evaporate a
bit and remove the pan from the flame.
Roast the pine-nuts lightly in a dry frying pan and keep aside.
Prepare some syrup with 1 dl of balsamic vinegar and 4 tablespoons of sugar by cooking them slowly in a small pan. Leave on the fire long enough to thicken up.
Garnish the lukewarm caponata with the roasted pine nuts and the syrup and serve with bread.