My intention was to purchase a jar of black olive tapenade for a few friends coming over the following weekend. I had already planned out an array of appetizers that would go well with the wine I had chosen to serve from Barrel Oak Winery, one of my favorite vineyards near my home, but wanted one more item to round out my menu. I was headed to the Leesburg Farmer's Market, and decided to stop quickly by the Williams-Sonoma outlet store (I go crazy in that place!). They carry a great selection of gourmet food items, and figured I could find the tapenade there; and besides, needed to pick up a jar of Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans…least expensive place to purchase them!
As I started browsing the selection of food items, I couldn't find any tapenade. Oh well, I'll just make it myself, I thought. My eyes then spotted a jar of eggplant caponata (caponata di melanzane), imported from Italy. Oh, how lovely! My tapenade decision quickly changed to this delicious, classic Sicilian dish, which makes the perfect topping for bruschetta or crostini. If you are unfamiliar with eggplant caponata, it's a cubed, fried eggplant, in a sweet and sour sauce, filled with lovely ingredients.
The jar I picked up to look at was only 6 ounces, and the cost was more than I wanted to pay for such a small amount, so I quickly left the store and headed over to the farmer's market. My mission - to pick up some nice fresh eggplant and head home to search my cookbooks and internet for the most authentic eggplant caponata recipe I could find. Since the eggplant readily absorbs the other flavors so well, eggplant caponata is actually better made ahead, which worked well for my schedule.
After reading several versions, knowing exactly what I was looking for, I chose one adapted from Saveur, and it was the best choice ever! A very authentic recipe appearing in Saveur Magazine's March 2011 special feature "Soul of Sicily", it contained all the ingredients I was looking to include, and even a special surprise, chocolate! Needless to say, this recipe is exceptional!
To serve for brushcetta, as I have done here, lightly brush your bread with evoo, toast under a broiler for 1 - 1-1/2 minutes (depending on the size of bread you are using), until a light golden brown. Watch it closely. Turn the bread over and repeat. You can also just lightly toast without the evoo, if you prefer. Serve the caponata at room temperature, or cold, on the toasted bread. You can also put it in a container with the bread displayed around it. Whichever way you decide to serve, make sure you have a nice glass of red wine with it!
Until next time…mangia! xox
Eggplant Caponata - caponata di melanzane(Printer friendly button below)
Serves 6 - 8
3 cups olive oil or canola oil
2 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1" cubes (no need to peel, you will do that later)
1 large yellow sweet or vidalia onion
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped (use the hearts)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste, thinned with 1/4 cup water
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
6 oz. green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar (I used red)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup (3 fl. oz. jar) salt-packed nonpareil capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated unsweetened chocolate (yep! chocolate)
1/2 cup finely shredded basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Create the eggplant caponata:
Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3-4 minutes. (It took 3 batches for me.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to paper towel lined plates. As soon as the eggplant is cool enough to handle, I peeled off the skins. This goes really quickly, and peels off paper thin, still leaving some of the skin color on the eggplant cubes. Once peeled, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.
Pour off all but 1/4 cup oil, and reserve for another use. Return skillet to heat, with the 1/4 cup oil in it, add onions and celery, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add thinned tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Transfer mixture to bowl with the eggplant, add basil and pine nuts, and mix together. Season with salt and paper to taste, and let cool to room temperature before serving. Can also be served cold.
The 6 - 8 servings is using as a side dish. Using the caponata for bruschetta or crostini will yield many more servings.
I fried the eggplant in 3 cups of canola oil and then poured it all off, and reserved for another time. I then used 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil for the browning stage.
Peeling the eggplant is a totally unnecessary step. I chose to do it only because I was using it for brushetta; however, the skin is usually left on.
For the chocolate, I used 70% cocoa dark chocolate, since I had it in my pantry. It worked perfectly.
This wonderful recipe keeps for 3 - 5 days refrigerated, and also freezes beautifully.
Eggplant caponata is also the perfect side dish alongside a grilled meat or fish.
|Varieties of eggplant from one of my many visits to the Leesburg, Virginia Farmer's Market.|