This month I’ve teamed up with the marvellous Italian Supper Club, a bespoke catering service, London-based supper club and a passionate gang of people who know how to eat right. Far from the fast-paced culture of many of London’s restaurants, Italian Supper Club practises traditional mediterranean dining that’s relaxed, sociable, and runs late into the night. Rest assured that you’ll find no gimmicks here, the team are experts in Italian cuisine and run an entirely authentic outfit. With outstanding seasonal menus, wine sourced from family-run vineyards, live music, and warm and welcoming venues that rival a house-proud Nonna’s own kitchen, Italian Supper Club is an experience not to be missed. Luckily for you creative kitchen-dwellers, founder and wine expert Silvio has shared an original Sicilian recipe with me. This one’s a vegan dish that’s perfect for spring.
‘Every time I go to Sicily, my aunty makes me caponata which I absolutely love. I’m not sure how to classify this dish as it’s not a side, nor is it a stew or main course, though I could eat an industrial quantity of it. It’s an antipasto or starter, normally served cold, but also great when it’s still warmish. It doesn’t matter what season it is, you can make caponata with whatever vegetables you have. The method is always the same. Your vegetables are fried individually to maintain the essence of each flavour, then mixed in a sweet and sour sauce. At the moment, artichokes are in season so I would strongly recommend you use them as the principal vegetable. Then you should try Caponata with aubergine as soon as its time comes around.’ – Silvio Pezzana
You Will Need
½ fennel bulb chopped into small pieces
3 fresh plum tomatoes chopped into small pieces
1 onion chopped into small pieces
2 sticks of celery chopped into small pieces
100g whole black olives
50g pine nuts
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 spring of mint
1 tbsp tomato passata
1 tbsp caster sugar
5 tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar
vegetable oil for deep-frying
olive oil for frying
100ml of extra-virgin olive oil
Artichokes are tough customers and are quite tricky to prepare, so before cooking, you’ll have to clean them. First you’ll need to snap off the dark-green outer leaves of the artichoke until only the pale, tender inner leaves remain. Then cut off the top third of the artichoke and all but 1 inch of the stem. Next, using a paring knife if you have one, peel away the tough outer layer of the stem and remove the leaves around the base of the bulb. Finally, cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and with a spoon or melon baller, scoop out and discard the fuzzy ‘choke’ and thorny inner leaves from the centre. Cut each half into four slices. At this point you can also drain and dry the olives, then crush them lightly and remove their stones.
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Pop the pine nuts on a baking tray and put into the oven for around six to eight minutes. Keep an eye on them to ensure that they don’t burn, and when they look golden, take them out of the oven and leave them to one side.
Next you’ll want to heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the onion, celery and olives and cook until soft. Then add the tomato passata. Mix the sugar and vinegar together in a separate cup or bowl and add the mixture to the pan. You’ll smell some delicious scents as the flavours blend. Bring everything to the boil, then take off the heat and transfer the contents of the pan to a big bowl. You’ll then be looking at one very special flavour base so you’ll probably be feeling a little hungry by this point.
Heat about 4cm of vegetable oil in a deep pan and make sure that it fills no more than a third of that pan up – we don’t want any accidents. Add the fennel and deep-fry for one to two minutes, until tender and golden. Leave the heat on, lift the fennel out and drain on a tea towel or some kitchen roll to soak up the excess oil. Wait until the oil comes up to the right temperature again, then repeat this process with those beautifully prepared artichokes.
Add all the deep-fried vegetables to the bowl containing the onion, celery and olives, together with the diced tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves and add them to the bowl, along with the sultanas, pine nuts and the extra-virgin olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper, and mix everything together. Now the magic’s about to happen. Cover the bowl with clingfilm while the vegetables are still warm and leave the mixture to infuse for two hours at room temperature. If however, you can’t wait that long, tuck in after about half an hour. This dish is glorious when slightly warm. Don’t put the bowl in the fridge, you’ll want those warm vegetables to steam slowly so that all the flavours blend perfectly and in their own time.
There are a few ways to serve Italian Supper Club’s very special Caponata di Carciofi though Silvio recommends enjoying it on a slice of toasted sourdough bread with some pistachio nuts and a sprig of fresh mint. For those of you who aren’t of the vegan persuasion, try topping this with a bit of burrata cheese (cottage cheese will do too). Just add a fresh and sunny spring day for optimum enjoyment. Now that’s a delicious Bruschetta di Caponata. Buon appetito!
I’m so thrilled to have worked with Italian Supper Club on this exceptional recipe and can’t wait to hear how your Caponata dishes turn out. This one really is perfect for an authentic Sicilian lunch and whether you’re enjoying it from the comfort of your studio, at work, from your garden, uni, or even in your front room, I promise it’ll leave you full of the joys of the season, and inspired to cook up a creative second helping. Craving more traditional Italian delights? More information and tickets for Italian Supper Club are available from their website. Get them quick, each event sells out fast.
Find more here
Words: Emily Beeson | @boogiemargaret