Forget the trials and tribulations with Trump; we’re in the middle of a courgette crisis. Bad weather in Spain means that vegetables like courgettes, spinach, lettuce and broccoli haven’t grown very well this winter so I guess you could say that the crop has come a cropper. It must be serious if supermarkets are rationing vegetables.
Before we lament this lack of lettuce though, shouldn’t we remember that we shouldn’t really be eating it in midwinter anyway? It seems that we’re a bit out of kilter with how our food gets to our forks with fewer than one in ten Brits know when UK fruits and vegetables are in season. If and when possible, eating seasonally is generally cheaper and it always tastes better too. Although February can be a bit of a miserable month, at this time of year you can enjoy bright blood oranges, creamy cauliflower, sweet celeriac, jolly little Jerusalem artichokes, and much more.
I even managed to pick up an aubergine the other day, too – no mean feat as they’re also in short supply at the moment. Now, admittedly this is not when British aubergines are at their finest (they’re available all year round but come into their own from May until October) but it did well in a simple stew for supper.
Caponata is a sweet and slightly sour Sicilian stew – and it’s delicious. This is a somewhat bastardised version as I’ve left out the celery which is used in traditional recipes, and because tomatoes are out of season and are, quite frankly flavourless at the moment, I used the tinned and sundried variety. This is lovely with pasta, rice or some crusty bread – or just on its own. The chilli is optional and you can use rosemary or another herb in place of the thyme. If you have some fresh basil, it’s nice to scatter some on top, too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large aubergines, cut into 2cm cubes
3 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ chilli, finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
1 x 400g tin plum or chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 teaspoons capers
50ml red wine or balsamic vinegar
Handful of toasted pine nuts or flaked almonds to garnish (optional)
Pour the olive oil into a large heavybased saucepan or casserole, place over a medium heat and add the aubergines. Cook for a good 15-20 mins until they are soft. Scoop the aubergines out of the pan and set aside. Add the shallots, garlic, chilli and thyme, and cook for about 5 minutes until they are soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook slowly, so they break down and turn to a soft mush, then add the aubergines back to the pan. Now put in the tomato puree, capers and vinegar, season well and cover with a lid. Cook over a low heat for 20-25 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Stir gently so it doesn’t break up too much. Serve the warm caponata scattered with flaked almonds or pine nuts if using.