In Auletta, Campania in Italy is a hidden gem; Le Grotte di Pertosa. Beautiful underground caves, created 34 million years ago and lived in up until the Stone Age, are characterised by the magnificent stalagmites. The caverns are reached by a short boat ride, expertly navigated through partly lit tunnels by local guides. And they are a sight to behold, frozen in time. The multicoloured lights display the magnificence of the sparkling minerals and the great natural waterfall.
Once you are out of the caves into the brilliant sun, it is most refreshing to take a sip of the fresh natural water running from the hills. Our visits to the caves were always concluded with a visit to Ristorante Villa delle Rose, serving dishes of recipes passed down the generations.
This recipe of caponata descends from Nonna Maria, who taught me how to make it. I have topped it with cod and the two tastes complement each other.
4 x 255g (8oz) thick cod fillets or steaks * 4 tbsp olive oil * 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
185ml (6 floz) olive oil * 2 tbsp plain flour * 1 large aubergine, cut into 1cm (½in) cubes * 2 courgettes * 2 red onions, finely chopped * 2 celery sticks, finely diced * 455g (1lb) small, ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced * 85g (3oz) mixed olives * 4 tbsp red wine vinegar * 1 tbsp soft brown sugar * sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the caponata, season the flour with salt and pepper and use it to coat the aubergines pieces. (Don’t throw away the flour). Heat 125ml (4 floz) of olive oil in a large ovenproof frying pan and fry the aubergines for 5-8 minutes until golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Wipe clean the frying pan, heating the oil in it and fry the onions for 3 minutes until soft. Stir in the courgettes and celery, cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in the aubergines, tomatoes, olives, vinegar and sugar then simmer for 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas Mark 6.
To cook the fish, coat the cod in the remaining flour. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan, add 2 of the rosemary sprigs and fish, then cook for 3 minutes on each side until browned. Add the cod to the caponata and the remaining 2 rosemary sprigs. (Discard the fried ones). Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until the cod is milky white and cooked through. Drizzle the remaining oil and serve. This is delicious with the schiacciata bread.
I have collated all my favourite recipes into one book FOOD FOR ALL OCCASIONS.
There are more recipes in the section THE ITALIAN JOB, a selection of authentic Italian recipes.