Lines don't really exist in Italy. There might seem to be a line, but Italians know all those fools are foreigners. They will walk right by through you and up to the cashier, as if you were invisible. Once during a break from Italian class, we students were in line to pay for our coffee, snacks, etc. Noticing this strange phenomena, the cashier yelled to his colleagues that it was obvious we were stranieri (foreigners) because of the perfect line we had formed.
Street markets are even more chaotic and it's every man, woman, and child for him/herself. If it's crowded and you are timid or polite, forget about ever getting service. I went with my cousin Mariella to the mercatino (little street market) in Palermo. Mariella, barely five feet two, wedged her way through the crowd with her rolling shopping bag behind her. She pushed her way up to the counter and asked, "Chi e l'ultima?" (Who is last?) They politely told her and then each person waited their turn. This happened at each vendor's counter during the day. Imagine my surprise! At one point Mariella asked me why my mouth was agape. There is actually some logic to the chaos of the street market. Who knew?
We shopped for ingredients to make caponata. Caponata is a vegetable dish, mainly eggplant, in an agrodolce sauce. Agrodolce, a sour and sweet sauce, is YUM, YUM YUM!! It's also used with fish, winter squash, and with seafood salads. Here's the thing; it's also easy to make, just 1 part sugar to 2 parts vinegar. (The term agrodolce also describes things that are both sweet and sour at the same time, a movie, a breakup, a graduation or other ending that leads to a beginning. ) The theory with agrodolce is that you need both the sweet and the sour together, each contrasting and accentuating the other, but as a whole the flavor is balanced and harmonious.
Below is Mariella's recipe, with one little additon. I've added some sultanas (golden raisins) to the recipe because I think the sultanas hold the agrodolce sauce and balance the tartness of the capers. Caponata should be served at room temperature---never warm. It's best if served the day after you make it.
Mariella's Eggplant Caponata
Makes 8 cups
2 pounds of eggplant (about 4)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cups olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
5 ounces pitted green olives, quartered
4 ounces capers, rinsed
1/4 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2 pinches of pepper, plus more to taste
Cut the eggplant into one-inch cubes, leaving the skin on. Place in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Cover with a paper towel and weigh down with plates. Leave for one hour, allowing the excess water to drain.
Sweeten the vinegar by adding the sugar and set aside. Blanch the celery in boiling salted water for 2 minutes.
Rinse the eggplant and pat completely dry. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large sauté pan, and cook one-fourth of the eggplant cubes over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Place the cooked eggplant on paper to drain. Continue cooking the eggplant in this way in 3 more stages.
Drain the excess olive oil from the sauté pan used for cooking the eggplant, leaving about 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. On high heat, sweat the onion and a pinch of salt for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the celery and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with the juices, the olives, capers, sultanas, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and the sweetened vinegar and cook about 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Cool and refrigerate overnight. You can serve it as an appetizer on toasted bread or as a side vegetable. Buon Appetito!