Although I was a good eater as a child, I had a list of things I did not like. Turkey was at the top of the list. Closely following were mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant. As I moved into vegetarianism and my taste buds grew up, I learned to love mushrooms in just about any form, zucchini almost all ways (not raw unless thinly sliced like this), peppers as long as they are cooked way down, and eggplant… Well, still working on that one.
I like eggplant more than I did when I was a kid but that isn’t really saying much since I hated it then. I’ve said this before here but I tend to like it best when it kind of hides in the background a bit. It’s harder for me to tolerate when it is front and center. (Although I do have a great Eggplant Parmesan recipe that I love and there is just no explaining that.)
Caponata is the thing I tend to ignore on the antipasto platter. It stands between me and the marinated mozzarella or the garlicky mushrooms. So why did I make it? I have eggplant lovers in my life and this recipe comes from a most-trusted cookbook. I made it during one of those weeks when I needed appetizers for several different things and this recipe makes a lot of caponata. It also keeps really well. I’ve tasted my share of them and this, in my humble opinion, is the finest version. Some are too salty, some are too sweet, and most are too greasy. John Ash finds the perfect balance here. Sweetness from raisins and a bit of brown sugar, salty from capers and olives, acidity from tomatoes and red wine vinegar, and not too much olive oil. It’s delicious with crackers or bread and I would head straight for it on my next antipasto platter.
In the heading of this recipe, Ash mentions that you can toss this mixture with pasta too. Yum!
2 pounds eggplant, peeled or not as you please, slice lengthwise ¼-inch thick
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves roasted garlic
½ cup diced celery
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp. rinsed capers
3 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp. golden raisins or currants
1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Lay the eggplant slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Remove, coarsely chop, and reserve.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, roasted garlic, and celery until softened but not brown, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the capers, pine nuts, raisins, olives, brown sugar, and vinegar. Over medium heat, cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the eggplant and season to your taste with the salt and red pepper flakes. Serve at room temperature. Can be stored, covered, in your refrigerator for up to 5 days. (DT: The flavor gets better as it sits.)