The first time I had eggplant caponata was at a little Italian restaurant in Florida.
It was not pretty, but it was SO good. I was completely prepared to fill up on bread slathered in the stuff, and fight my family for last tasty bits.
Years later, I threw a party for some friends with an Italian themed menu. Homemade pasta sauce, pasta, and my first attempt at caponata.
That was about 12 years ago, so when a friend gave me a handful of eggplant and basil from her garden, it seemed like it was about time to try this again.
After all, I am part Sicilian. Seemed a shame to have all that pretty eggplant on hand and NOT make something Italian.
This time, I limited myself to the pantry basics to see how things would turn out.
To start, chop up your eggplant. Normally, I would use those big fat eggplant you see at the stores – more commonly cultivated and sold here in the US. The eggplants from my friends garden look to be Chinese eggplants, so I went with what I had.
I do think they are prettier than the big fat ones.
Chop the eggplant into bit sized pieces. I find that if you cut the eggplant lengthwise first, your horizontal cuts are much easier
Once you’ve chopped ‘em up, you want to pull some of the moisture from these babies.
[Sidenote: This is why a GOOD eggplant parmigiana is time-consuming. I remember watching my mom cut pieces for that and putting a bunch of weight on top of the slices to squeeze the water out. Edited to add: it also pulls the bitterness out - thanks, E!]
No squishing for the caponata, but if you toss a healthy bit of salt over these pieces in a colander and let it sit for an hour, it will pull some of that moisture out.
While this is happening, you can get several things done: preheat your oven to 400, and wrap a pan in foil for the eggplant to roast on.
You could also fold laundry.
Or sit around and watch videos of cats doing funny things.
When an hour has passed, toss your eggplant on a pan or cookie sheet with a few tablespoons of olive oil – the good stuff since the egg plant tends to soak up its surroundings. Place the pan in the 400F oven and let the pieces roast for about 15-20 minutes.
While this is happening, be sure to have your onion, celery, and olives chopped.
You can start sauteing the onion before you take the eggplant out. In a generous amount of olive oil (say, 1/4 C or slightly more) cook your onions up – a good 10 minutes should do.
Next, add your crushed tomatoes. I used a can of organic crushed tomatoes but I would recommend either a) fresh Roma tomatoes or b) a good can of whole San Marzano tomatoes. I’ve discovered that a lot of canned crushed tomatoes are closer to blended than crushed, and I prefer the chunkiness you get from a true crushed tomato.
Cook for another 5 minutes, then add the celery, olives, and capers. Stir it around and add a splash of orange juice, red wine vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. You may want to add a little of each and then adjust the amounts to your own taste.
Simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Take the caponata off the heat and add fresh basil.
Technically, you can dive right in at this point, but I prefer my caponata after it’s been chilled, so I recommend scooping this into a jar and serving it later with sliced up baguette and a boiled egg.
Do you have a favorite eggplant recipe to share?