SWEET & SOUR EGGPLANT ANTIPASTO
Melanzane in Agrodolce (Caponata)
You can find many variations of this recipe popular throughout southern Italy. It is frequently served on toasted bread, with grilled fish dishes, or to top fresh ricotta. In Puglia, this dish is served with panelle, a chickpea-flour-based “polenta” that can be fried or cooked in a pan like pancakes. I like it served with Farinata Ligure, a chickpea flatbread.
• 5 cups large-dice Italian eggplant, seeded before dicing
• 1 cup mild olive oil
• 2 cups small-dice red onion
• 1 cup celery, peeled and sliced
• 1½ teaspoons salt-cured capers, rinsed, and roughly chopped
• 2 teaspoons chopped black olives, pitted, roughly chopped
• 2 teaspoons tomato paste
• 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
• 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
• 1½ cups canned peeled tomatoes, lightly crushed
• 2 teaspoons chopped basil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
• 1½ teaspoons pine nuts
To draw out the moisture from the eggplant, place it in a colander, salt well, and allow it to drain for at least 2 to 4 hours. Rinse the salt from the eggplant, and pat dry with paper toweling.
Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat, reserving the other 1/2 cup for later use. When oil is hot, add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned on all sides. This is best done in batches so the eggplant takes on a good color; if you add too much to the pan at once, they won’t brown. (Note: You may also fry them in a fryer; make sure to dust them with flour before deep-frying and work in small batches.) Transfer them to a pan lined with paper towels to blot briefly before you put them in a mixing bowl.
Wipe out the pan used for the eggplant, add the remaining oil, and return it to medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes until translucent. Add the celery and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Be sure the celery stays crunchy. Stir in the capers and olives. Add this mixture to the eggplant and toss well to combine. Set aside.
Once again, wipe out the skillet and return it to medium-high heat. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
Pour the eggplant mixture into the skillet, add the basil, and stir to combine well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Top with the pine nuts. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.
Recipe from A TAVOLA! Recipes and Reflections on Traditional Italian Home Cooking by Gianni Scappin and Vincenzo Lauria (Lebhar-Friedman, August 2009, Hardcover/$29.95)