While the Stars knocked the boys around last night pretty badly, I did get a chance to make a dish that I dearly love: Caponata. Caponatina. Literally, the only way I will eat eggplant.
Last night, we did an odd sort of menu. Chicken and dumplings, linguine and clams, pilaf, garlic mashed potatoes, but on the uptick, my assistant did an assortment of cheeses that looked great, and I brought out one of my favorite recipes.
Caponata is a Sicilian dish, and while a lot of things change from region to region, you can count on two things with Caponata, and that is eggplant, and a fair amount of vinegar.
A lot of folks prefer a sort of eggplant stew, reminiscent of Ratatouille. I prefer to do a version that is a bit more reliant on fresh ingredients, and more of a flash pickling base. It isn’t classic, but it embraces the roots of the dish, and gives it a fresher spin, and a texture that a bit firmer.
1 Eggplant–peeled, diced, soak in salt water
1 Spanish onion–diced
3 cloves garlic–minced
4 ribs celery–diced
1 red pepper–diced
1 green pepper–diced
1 yellow pepper–diced
2 roma tomatoes–diced
1 yellow squash–diced
1T fresh parsley–chopped
1T fresh basil–chopped
4 cherry peppers–chopped
1 lemon–zest and juice
1t black pepper
1t crushed red pepper
3T apple cider vinegar
1t Frank’s Red Hot or Sriracha
3T Extra Virgin olive oil
Soak the diced eggplant in a bath of salt water–I prefer to use a perforated pan to keep the eggplant from floating out of the bath, and turning an funky brown in air–for 20-40 minutes. The brining process improves the flavor, prevents it from soaking up too much oil, and prevents bittering. Smaller eggplants, like the Thai and some Asian varieties don’t have that problem, and you can substitute them if you like, but this recipe uses the European.
After your eggplant brines for a bit, get your pan ready. You will need a good sized sauté pan or rondeau. High heat with the olive oil, and then add in your onion and sauté until almost translucent, then add in your garlic, and sauté that mess for about a minute, then add in your drained eggplant and continue the process for 3-4 minutes, then add in your chopped celery–sauté only until the celery gets to a bright green. Salt and pepper to taste, then take from the heat, and turn out onto baking sheet or other large surface pan. A mixing bowl will work fine in you want to leave the mess in the ‘fridge for a few hours to do other things, but I like to get things rolling, so I put a larger pan in the ‘fridge to cool quickly.
Combine your peppers, squash, zukes, tomatoes, cherry peppers, lemon juice, zest, basil, parsley, crushed red pepper, and toss with your vinegar and hot sauce. I like to just use a stainless mixing bowl, and just give it all a quick toss. A few flicks of the wrist, and the bowl does the work–yes, Virginia, it’s not just shaped that way to hold the stuff inside, but to give it a nice angle to flip stuff around and give you enough area to catch it all as it slides back down. Once the salad portion of the show is mixed, add in your cooled eggplant and onion mixture. You can let the salad sit for a while before adding the cooked stuff. Toss and mix evenly, and salt and pepper to taste. You can adjust the spice level then too, if you are afraid of the red pepper or hot sauce. I like a bit of kick to Caponata, but that’s me. Once you get your basic flavors down, turn the bowl into a storage vessel, and pop it into the ‘fridge and forget about for 24 hours. Let the flavors develop. This version is served cold. You can serve it warm–as a side dish, or accompaniment to seafood–but in that case, you want to forgo the chilling, and add everything together for more of a stew.
After 24 hours of sitting in its own juices, the Caponata is ready to serve. Yesterday, we used it to top pita and a roasted garlic hummus, with a little drizzle of balsamic reduction. Tart, spicy, savory, and just a hint of sweetness. You get a variety of textures from the hummus, pita, and the firm flash pickled salad too. This version also makes a great side salad, or even a topping for a variety of fish.