Eggplant are not native to Italy–they’re native to India–but they’re enjoyed in a variety of ways in Italian kitchens everywhere. Eggplant Parmesan, marinated eggplant, grilled eggplant….and while you can find these purple, sort-of-egg-shaped, vegetables year-round nowadays, their peak season here in Italy is August to October.
Market stalls are piled high with eggplant and after my neighbor, Fernanda, brought me some Caponata recently, I decided to try it for myself.
There’s lots of reasons I would like to suggest that you try Caponata:
- It’s colorful–look at the array of colors!
- It’s healthy–research shows that eggplants are high in antioxidants…and help to lower high cholesterol.
- It can be enjoyed hot or cold–a great feature especially on a hot summer day!
- It freezes well–so I usually make a large batch while I’m “at it”.
Eggplant can have a slightly bitter–almost tongue-biting–quality. I still remember eating fried eggplant as a child in Africa and feeling like my tongue was being pinched! I’m guessing a lot of you may have had the same experience in the past and not be fans of eggplant. My mission is to change your mind about that! Read on!
Many recipes call for the eggplant to be salted and drained (known as “degorging”) to soften them, keep them from absorbing so much fat, and reduce some of the bitterness. I’ve never liked this time-consuming step and often just decided to skip it! And from what I’ve experienced, learned from Italians, and now read on the Internet, eggplant have been cultivated in recent years so that this step is not necessary as it once was
I would classify Caponata as a sister dish to Ratatouille–not the movie but the rustic, flavorful stew we enjoy especially in the winter.
I begin by sautèing two cloves of garlic, minced, and two medium eggplant (about 2 lbs./1 kg total), peeled and cubed, in 1-2 T. olive oil. The eggplant will absorb almost all of the oil you put into the pan, so don’t use too much.Just enough to keep the garlic from burning.
I used a non-stick pan here, so it didn’t stick at all. If you use a stainless steel pan, it may stick a bit but keep stirring it frequently and you’ll be OK.
I sautè the garlic and eggplant for 5-10 minutes, until it is quite soft.
Next I add a few of my favorite things…
If you prefer, you can add diced onions instead of the bell peppers…or add them both. Like most Italian recipes, there’s a lot of give and take on which ingredients to use and even how much of each ingredient.
Lastly, I add a few spoonfuls of vinegar–to offset the sweet sugar…
I stir everything together, bring the mixture to a boil and then let it simmer it over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is cooked off or absorbed. There you go. That’s it–very easy.
Caponata is often served as an appetizer, along with some crusty bread, though we usually enjoy it as a side dish. I would describe it as a rustic dish with complex flavors. I find it pairs best with a robust main dish with deep flavors, something such as Beef Patties in Red Wine or Savory Herbed Chicken).
Hot or cold…appetizer or side…peppers or onions…more sugar or less…however I’ve served it, I’ve found it’ delicious!
- 2 T. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium eggplants (2 lb./1 kg total), peeled and diced
- 15-20 black olives (Kalamata, if possible)
- 3 C. diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 2 medium bell peppers, diced (optional)
- 2 medium onions diced (optional)
- 2-3 T. capers (optional)
- 1-2 T. pine nuts (optional)
- 2 T. vinegar (Balsamic, if possible)
- 2 T. sugar
- In a large non-stick skillet, sautÃ© the garlic and eggplant in the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until the eggplant is a bit tender.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated or incorporated.
- Serve warm or cool
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