Caponata is a great spring and summer vegetable dish that is best served at room temperature and benefits from being made the day before. As well as being a good partner for grilled meat and fish, caponata is also a brilliant match for that salty, addictive Mediterranean cheese, halloumi. Although it can look a bit unappetising on the shelves in the shop, once grilled or fried it takes on a new look and makes a delicious snack or starter.
Chocolate might seem an unlikely ingredient, but in the same way as it is used in Mexican-based dishes, it adds a nice sweet and savoury touch.
200-300g halloumi, cut into rough 1cm chunks
1-2tbsp olive oil
A handful of small basil leaves or Greek basil
For the caponata
2 medium aubergines, cut into rough 1cm cubes
Vegetable oil for frying
4-5 sticks of celery, any stringy stalks peeled, cut into rough 1cm pieces
4-5tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 x 225g can of chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp caster sugar
75ml white wine vinegar
1tbsp grated dark chocolate, minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids
40g salted capers, rinsed in cold water
12 large green olives, stoned and quartered
First make the caponata: heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan until very hot and cook the aubergines in a couple of batches, stirring every so often, until they are golden; then remove with a slotted spoon and dry on some kitchen paper. Fry the celery pieces in the oil that is left in the pan – or add a little more if necessary – and dry on some kitchen paper.
Gently cook the onion in the olive oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan for about 2-3 minutes, or until they've turned soft. Then add the tomatoes, season and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan, add the chocolate, capers and olives and heat the mixture, stirring until the chocolate has melted. Add to the tomato mixture and simmer for another 5 minutes.Add the aubergines and celery to the sauce and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
To serve, heat the olive oil in a reliable heavy or non-stick frying pan and cook the pieces of halloumi on a high heat for a few minutes, turning them as they are cooking, until they are golden. Spoon the caponata on to a large dish, or individual serving dishes, then spoon the halloumi over and scatter over the basil leaves.