I don’t use my slow cooker often, but I am most likely to break it out in the summer when my overall culinary mission, besides getting to my nearby farmers market each week, is to avoid standing over a stove or firing up my oven.
Based on the popularity of the slow cooker ratatouille I did for this column last summer, I am guessing many of you feel the same way. So this year I looked toward a different region of the Mediterranean for another summer vegetable dish that lends itself to that appliance and landed in Sicily, with this caponata.
It is an “agrodolce” (sour-sweet) tomato and eggplant stew that is studded with the textures and tastes from celery, raisins, olives, capers and pine nuts. This version is as simple to make as could be. You just toss together everything (except the pine nuts) in the slow cooker and turn it on.
Using small eggplants eliminates the prospect of bitter seeds, so you don’t need to salt the vegetable or fry it ahead as most recipes call for, and I was happy to discover that there is no need to peel the tomatoes, either.
After 21⁄2 hours, when the vegetables are soft and beginning to lose their shape and the flavors have melded, you allow it to cool to room temperature and then stir in the toasted pine nuts.
I enjoyed the batch I made several different ways throughout the week. I served it in a small bowl to spoon onto crostini for my guests who popped in for a glass of wine. I spread it generously onto crusty bread and topped it with slices of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves for an open-face sandwich for lunch (I did put that in my toaster oven to melt the cheese. Does that count as turning on the oven?) And I served it as part of a large antipasti spread for dinner one night. I still had some left over, which I froze to enjoy again sometime down the road — no heat required.
Slow cooker caponata
This version of the classic Sicilian sweet and sour eggplant and tomato stew, is as simple to make as it gets. Just toss everything (except the pine nuts, which are stirred in later) together in a slow cooker. Serve it at room temperature with crostini as an appetizer, spooned onto sandwiches, tossed into pasta or as part of an antipasti spread.
¼ cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Asian or small Italian eggplants (1 ½ pounds total), unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
5 medium Roma or plum tomatoes (about 1 pound), seeded and cut into small dice
1 small onion, cut into small dice
2 medium ribs celery, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced crosswise
⅓ cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped green olives
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
You’ll need a slow cooker with a capacity of at least 4 quarts.
Whisk together the vinegar, oil, tomato paste, honey, salt and pepper in a liquid measuring cup.
Combine the eggplant, tomatoes, onion, celery, raisins, capers and olives in the slow cooker. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables and toss to coat. Cook on high for 21⁄2 hours. Transfer to a bowl or storage container and allow to cool completely.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant. Cool completely, then stir the pine nuts into the cooled caponata.
Serve garnished with basil leaves. The caponata can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks. Makes 8 servings (about 4 cups).
Nutrition per serving: 150 calories, 3 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber, 13 grams sugar.