Yesterday I received two beautiful eggplants from a dear friend’s garden. It will probably be the last fresh eggplants of summer so I thought I’d better make the best of them. When I think of eggplants lately (I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me say this), I think of Italy, especially Sicilia or as you know it: Sicily. It was Sicily that rekindled my childhood love of eggplants. I guess because I grew up eating things fresh from the garden, I didn’t know eggplants could take on such a horrible bitterness. Later on in life, when I was unable to walk out to the backyard to pick fresh vegetables, I started to hate eggplants because they were always bitter, horribly bitter. Actually, my whole family hated them so when I cooked eggplants, I had to disguise them in tons of tomato paste or sauce with too much salt. Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan are perfect disguises for grocery store eggplants you’ll have in the winter. I’ve come to realize that eggplants that are not fresh, will just be bitter. You can soak them in salt water, soak them overnight in milk, remove the seeds and peelings, or hang them in the shower (okay, the last one is a joke..hehe). These things will disguise the bitterness, but the best thing to do is have fresh eggplants. And that’s what I have today thanks to my buddy, Diane 🙂
Caponata is similar to a Louisiana or New Orleans eggplant casserole. I’m not sure, but maybe this comes from the Italian immigrants from the 1800s that relocated in the New Orleans area. The people of Louisiana have a way of absorbing the flavors of various cultures. I know, because I’m one of them, and I love taking a dish and giving it a Louisiana flare. I discovered this delicious dish, an improved version of my Louisiana eggplant casserole, at a Sicilian barbeque that took place at Hotel La Calette in Cefalu. To read more about our Sicilian adventure here’s the link: http://www.eatwritepacklight.com/sicily/
Caponata is a great dish to leave in the refrigerator for later. It’s kind of like Gumbo in that the longer it sits waiting, the more it picks up the flavors and the more delicious it becomes. So, if you make this dish a day ahead of time, it will taste better. It has such a mix of flavors just like the island it comes from: sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.
First, saute’ onion and peppers in a skillet with olive oil, add tomato, basil, oregano, and salt. Cook until tender. Add chopped tomato. In the meantime, roast the eggplant in the oven and have a glass of wine (optional). Put in all together in a bowl like this:
- 1 eggplant, diced
- 1 large onion
- 2 yellow bell peppers, diced
- 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 2 medjool dates, chopped (or a tablespoon of soaked raisins)
- 2 oz pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon of each- basil, oregano, and mint, fresh, chopped (a little extra for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon capers
- ½ cup kalamata olives, sliced
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- ⅛ cup white wine vinegar (for the dressing)
- ¼ cup olive olive oil (for the dressing) more for the sauteing and roasting
- 2 tablespoons of honey or a teaspoon of sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a non-stick skillet, saute' onion and peppers until soft.
- In the meantime, brush the eggplant with olive oil, roast in the oven until slightly tender.
- Add the diced tomatoes to the onions and peppers. Season with salt, pepper and herbs.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, including capers, pine nuts, and olives.
- Place the mixture in a baking dish.
- Cook for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
- Mix the dressing in a small bowl: ⅛ cup white wine vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey or sugar. whisk together and put aside.
- Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the vegetables.
- Pour the dressing over the bread crumbs.
- Cook for another 10 minutes.
- Let cool and serve.