Eggplant is everywhere in beautiful shades of…. well, aubergine. I found these purple and white striped beauties at the farmers market this week but I also admire the exotic white varieties. However, it is the shades of deep purple that make eggplants swoon worthy this time of year both for their beauty and their deep earthy flavors that can only be appreciated in season.
If I am honest (and indeed, I am), eggplant is not a family favorite. I’m the only one who seeks it out and am alone when I order it sliced on a pizza. However, an Eggplant Caponata is a game changer in our house. Cubes of slightly burnished eggplant are mixed with the freshest tomatoes, salty capers and olives, and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. Salty, earthy and slightly acidic, it is such a lovely and satisfying combination.
I make a large batch and keep in the fridge for several days to top pizzas, pasta or a slice of toasted bread topped with fresh mozzarella for a tartine. It is so very adaptable and makes weekday meals easy. I also sometimes make it with very small cubes and serve on top of sliced toasted baguette as a bruschetta appetizer. Paired with an Aperol Spritz, Eggplant Caponata is a elegant start to a late-summer evening.
I believe that eating eggplant in season fresh from the farm eliminates the bitterness some associate with eggplant and that might be, in large part, due to the travel time it is forced to endure if you are eating it out of season. Fruit and vegetables were not meant to sit around for weeks. Picked fresh and on your plate within days, you will not be disappointed in eggplant and likely surprised at its tender, soulful pull on any dish.
Unlike Ratatouille, Eggplant Caponata maintains the structure and identity of each vegetable. Eggplant remains in cubes as do tomatoes, and, celery, ( if you have any at the market, which I sadly haven’t seen near us). The salty and briny addition of capers and olives also add a zing to the palate.
Eggplant Caponata is on our plates this weekend and hopefully on yours, as well. It has become a family favorite… honestly.
- 4 or more Tablespoons olive oil
- (2) medium eggplants (4-6 cups cubes), ends removed and chopped into cubes
- (1) medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 2-3 medium tomatoes (I like plum or San Marzano as they have a firmer flesh) peeled, cored and chopped
- ½ teaspoon granulated cane sugar (or more depending on your tomatoes and your desire for sweetness)
- (4) celery spears from the heart (not the tough outer spears) optional
- (2) Tablespoons capers*, rinsed and drained
- ¼ cup chopped green olives
- 2 Tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted **
- Basil leaves, chopped, optional
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Put cubed eggplant into a large bowl and coat lightly but evenly with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons.
- Lightly oil a large stainless steel fry pan (do not use non-stick, teflon or cast iron) and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the eggplant and toss over the heat. The eggplant will absorb all of the oil and will start to lightly stick to the pan. That is ok! Keep tossing and the eggplant will brown.
- Once the eggplant is browned and softened, remove to a plate. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil, or more to coat your pan, and add onion and celery (if using). Stir until softened, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add chopped tomatoes, sugar, capers and olives. Cook over medium heat until tomatoes are cooked through and celery is softened, about 10 minutes. Scrape the pan to loosen any stuck-on bits and continue to stir occasionally. (Do not boil rapidly, rather gently simmer)
- Add the eggplant and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes until completely combined and gently softened.
- Remove from heat, add vinegar, pine nuts and basil (if using). Stir to combine and taste. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Drizzle with olive oil.
- While you can serve immediately. It is probably best served after a night in the fridge and let to sit out at least 20 minutes.
- Serve as a dip for toasted pita triangles, atop pizza dough with slices of fresh mozzarella for a pizza, on top of pasta with fresh parmesan or on large slices of toasted bread for a tartine.
- To make this as an appetizer bruschetta, cut vegetables into a small dice and spoon atop toasted baguette slices.
**Toast pine nuts in a dry stainless steel fry pan. Toss in a hot pan until lightly browned. Do not look away! It takes just a moment to go from brown to burnt. i have also put into a toaster oven but again, keep a close eye.