Caponata is a traditional Sicilian dish made with aubergines. The key is in the main ingredients (probably like for any Italian recipe), the sweet taste of aubergines as well as juiciness of tomatoes. Apparently its name comes from a fish, caupone, which was used in certain taverns. I was told it derives from the Palermo area of Capo where the famous market is held every day and where daily life in Palermo got its buzz - and also where mafia had its headquarters. Possibly both versions are true and can be combined.
You will certainly find recipes that discourage you from frying the aubergine cubes as well as advising to leave the skin on. If I were you, I wouldn't. Besides the fact that, as my great-grand-father used to say, "even a shoe sole taste better when fried", the aubergines acquire a more crunchy texture. Frying them without the skin ensures its tenderness and sweetness. It is like eating silk.
Like in many other southern Italian dishes, the contrast between sweet and sour is a common characteristic of Caponata given by the combination of raisins, capers, sugar, and vinegar.
For 6 people (as a starter)
2 large aubergines
1.5 tin of plum tomatoes
100g green pitted olives
2 tbsp salted capers (sotto sale)
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp raisins
a handful of fresh basil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
150ml vegetable oil
Peel and chop into cubes the aubergines. Coat them in flour and fry them in enough hot vegetable oil. Season with salt the salt - so that it is equally distributed. Drain them on kitchen paper.
Chop finely the onion and fry it gently in olive oil using a deep pan. After a few minutes, add the pine nuts, raisins, capers, and then the olives (chopped into half if you think they are quite large). Let the ingredients get combined and then add the tomatoes. Let it bubble for a few minutes and then simmer for at least 5 minutes. Season with salt and then add the fried aubergines.
Let the stew simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened up and has become slightly gloopy. Place the sugar and vinegar in a spoon and then add it to the aubergine mixture increasing slightly the heat so that the vinegar evaporates. Add some of the basil leaves - torn into pieces.
Turn the heat off and let the stew rest for half an hour before serving. At the time of serving, re-heat gently so that it is warm and scatter the remaining basil leaves. You can prepare it even the night before if you plan to have it for lunch.
It is an unusual combination of ingredients for most foreigners but a winning one! Let me know what you think if you manage to make it.