My farmer's market is just chock full of eggplant right now so it's the perfect time to make this dish from Sicily - Caponata. It's an eggplant stew or relish that can be used in a variety of ways. It does make a great vegetarian main dish, but it's mostly used a side dish, especially for fish. I like to spread it on some good, crusty bread.
Caponata has that Sicilian affinity for agrodolce - sweet and sour. It is made with vinegar and sugar. It is a flavor explosion but can be made to suit your own particular tastes. I've seen recipes for caponata that contain twice the amount of vinegar that I use in this recipe. I don't like it quite that sour. You can adjust the vinegar to your liking and the sugar to your taste. Some recipes use red wine vinegar and some use white wine vinegar. Either one is fine.
You can serve this hot (which I like) but it is traditionally served at room temperature. It lasts for several days in the fridge after you make it.
The traditional way to make it is to cube the eggplant and fry it. I like roasting eggplant instead, because it soaks up so much oil and roasting it is a lot easier. Salting the eggplant beforehand is important because it helps to collapse the air holes that are in the eggplant, making it like a sponge. That is why it soaks up so much oil.
Caponata has capers, olives and celery added to round out the flavors. In Italy, the olives are totally different than the ones we commonly grew up eating here - the Spanish olives in jars. Totally different. If you are not a fan of those (like me) and do not have access to great olives (like me), you can use Cento nocellara olives. They are about the best I have found that comes close to the kind of olives we ate in Italy. If you live in New York City and can get to Eataly and buy some great olives, I'm jealous. But where I live, there is just nothing like that. We don't even have a Whole Foods here. So luckily, my neighborhood wine shop carries these great olives. They're rich and pungent and firm, not soggy.
This "male" eggplant should have fewer seeds, but this is a myth
The seeds in eggplant are what make eggplant bitter, but how do you choose eggplants with fewer seeds? There is a myth out there that there are female and male eggplants and that the males have fewer seeds. If you talk to plant specialists, they will tell you that there is no such thing as a male and female eggplant. Supposedly, male eggplants have a bellybutton type bottom and females have a more oblong shape on the bottom. I bought eggplants which look like the male version and they still had a ton of seeds. So this method does not work. In fact, I don't know of any sure way to pick out regular eggplants with few seeds (although white eggplant and Japanese eggplant have fewer). If anyone knows of a reliable way to do this, please leave it in the comments!
for a printable recipe click here
- 2 pounds of eggplant, cubed (about 3 medium eggplant)
- 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1-1/2 cups crushed San Marzano tomatoes (I use Cento Passata)
- 1/2 cup green Italian olives (I use Cento nocellara olives), sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 3 tablespoons capers packed in salt, rinsed
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped fresh basil
- 2 hard boiled eggs, quartered for garnish
Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and toss well with the salt. Let the eggplant sit for about an hour. Do not rinse the eggplant. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet (I line mine with foil for easy cleanup). Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and roast for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large frypan, saute the chopped onions in 1/4 cup of olive oil, gently, for about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the olives, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar and gently simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the roasted eggplant and stir until blended. Add pepper to taste.
to slice whole olives, remove the pit by smashing the olive
with the flat part of a knife. The pit will then be easy to remove and
you can slice the olives.
To serve, add chopped fresh basil and serve with hard boiled eggs and some crusty bread. Or use as a side dish for fish or chicken. You can serve this hot or at room temperature. It lasts several days in the fridge.