Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Caponata (Eggplant Relish)

Late Summer is here and the veggie harvest is in full swing. Unlike last year, the inconsistent weather we've had over the past 3 months (cool, heat, drought, and rain, about 3 uninterrupted weeks of each, in that order) made it a crummy season for tomatoes (no salsa or bruchetta to speak of), but a banner crop for others like peppers and eggplant. Unfortunately, 75% of the Hackknife household doesn't much enjoy either of those two vegetables, so I've had to get creative when preparing them as the farmbox has been chock-full of more peppers and eggplant than I know what to do with lately. I can at least turn peppers into pepperonata (stewed peppers in olive oil and vinegar) or throw some on a salad anytime we're doing Italian (which is quite often here in the Commissary), but the eggplant, now that's a bit more of a challenge. I've tried Eggplant Parmesan (mediocre results), rolled stuffed eggplants (better), and sauteing them with a little oil (just ok); however, one recent recipe stands out among the others.

Caponata, or eggplant relish, shows up in Italy (primarily Sicily) as a condiment or accompaniment to pasta, fresh bread, or other dishes. I know I've had it somewhere before, but don't recall exactly where. Luckily, when the idea popped into my head, I was able to find a recipe for it in my trusty Joy of Cooking volume. The only substitutions I made while prepping were 1) using Kalamata olives instead of green olives (Kalamatas are about the only olives I'll eat) and 2) dried herbs instead of fresh herbs, following the rule of thumb that 1/3 of the dried amount is approximately equivalent to the full fresh amount. The resulting dish is a great combination of flavors, sweet with salty and a little tang, perfect on plain noodles with a little grated Parmesan, plus, hey, I use up eggplant.

Peel and cut 1 medium eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add 1 cup finely chopped celery and cook, stirring often, until softened (about 4 minutes). Add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and 1 clove of garlic, minced. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and lightly colored, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add to the skillet 2 more Tbsp. of olive oil along with the eggplant and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned (5 to 7 minutes). Add celery mixture along with 1 1/2 c. canned plum tomatoes (drained and coarsely chopped), 12 green or Kalamata olives (pitted and coarsely chopped), 1 1/2 Tbsp. drained capers, 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. tomato paste, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. minced fresh oregano, 1 tsp. salt, and ground black pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if needed. Remove to a serving bowl and garnish with 2 Tbsp. fresh minced parsley.

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