It’s been a bad year for eggplant in our garden, but another local garden provided me with a shiny-smooth, purple one the other day. Because I recently ate a very good version at a New York restaurant, I decided to turn this eggplant into caponata siciliana, a sweet and savory, Arabic-influenced eggplant dish. There are many variations to caponata siciliana, but basically, raisins or currants provide the sweet and vinegar the savory. The flavors are so deep and complex that sometimes I just can’t stop eating the stuff.
I don’t like to peel the eggplant, but I do like to salt and drain the excess water from at least the rounded Italian varieties. However, be careful not to salt the small pieces too much or too long — 30 minutes is enough — or it will be hard to rinse away the salt sufficiently. Remember that the capers you add are salty, too. Make sure to pat the eggplant pieces dry after your rinse them.
I suppose you could bake, steam or grill the eggplant, as you can for baba ganoush, but browning it in olive oil adds a lot of flavor. Tomatoes sometimes appear in recipes and sometimes don’t; ditto a couple of chopped celery ribs and black olives. Add them, of course, if you feel like it, along with some cumin, a minced hot or red bell pepper, or chopped parsley, basil, or cilantro.
Caponata is very good served at room temperature, spread on slices of baguette, as a lunch or an appetizer. It’s also amazing in a sandwich with goat cheese or warmed as a side dish to lamb chops off the grill, as we ate it last night. You could also double this recipe; it’s even better the next day.
- 1 medium eggplant, diced into ½-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoon capers
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 to 3 small tomatoes, diced
- 3 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided
- 3 tablespoons raisins or currants
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- fresh ground pepper to taste
- chopped basil, parsley or cilantro
Put the eggplant in a colander or sieve, salt it and let it drain for about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a roomy fry pan and brown the eggplant pieces. Do so half at a time, if necessary, to leave the pieces with enough room to brown. Add the sliced onions and garlic about halfway through the cooking.
Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, capers, raisins or currants and about half the vinegar in a serving bowl. When the eggplant, onions and garlic are nicely browned, dump them into the bowl with the tomato mix. De-glaze the pan with the remaining vinegar and pour that into the bowl too, along with any chopped herbs, some ground black pepper and a little more olive oil if you like. Cool or chill; sprinkle with pine nuts before serving.
Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer.