A not very British Leek Caponata Recipe:
Caponata is a Sicilian dish usually made with aubergines that involves using a sweet-sour tomato sauce poured over the cooked vegetables and ‘melded’ together as everything cools. It’s a great thing to have in the fridge during the summer because you can serve it cold with salads or warm it up to eat with meat or even with a chunk of crusty bread. At this time of the year aubergines are inordinately expensive, and, having seen Paul Ainsworth making a squash caponata a couple of years ago, I wondered if it was possible to use the same sweet-sour tomato sauce over other vegetables. I’m entering this recipe into the Spring a Leek recipe competition because I’m actually rather pleased with the result
My first attempt at a leek caponata was not great. I boiled the leeks in water and got an overcooked mush. But, by stewing them very gently in olive oil they keep more texture but loose that slightly unpleasant aftertaste you sometimes get with leeks. I suspect it’s important to make sure you don’t buy those really huge leeks…but equally well don’t waste your money on the pretty little baby leeks you sometimes see for sale for this dish, it should be hearty and rustic and the leeks should be well flavoured to stand up to the sweet-sour tomato sauce. I’ve added cooked new potatoes to this version, mostly because I had some in the fridge(!) and I wanted a substantial dish. But you can leave them out quite easily if you want a ‘pure’ leek caponata.
To make the real thing, just substitute aubergine for the leek and potato. The aubergine caponata also benefits from a handful of olives – but I wasn’t convinced they’d add much here. Paul Ainsworth’s squash variety has a tablespoon of cocoa in the sauce, which makes it very dense and rather darker. Again, I thought a bit too overwhelming for young spring leeks. You could add a handful of chopped parsley if you want a garnish, but really it doesn’t need it, unless you are planning on entering masterchef;)
I’m really happy with this dish. It was a lot cheaper than its Mediterranean counterpart and serves much the same purpose. It’s delicious cold (serve at room temperature) or hot and while I’ve made enough for four to six good helpings, it keeps very well in the fridge for a week or so.