Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Eggplant Caponata

One of my favorite examples of culinary alchemy (discovered a few summers ago when our co-op farm stuck us with several pounds of eggplant that we didn't know what to do with) is Mario Batali's great recipe for eggplant caponata. You can definitely identify all the major components - the tomato sauce, the balsamic vinegar, the currants, and of course the eggplant - but it's still kind of a mystery to me how these flavors come together so beautifully and make another taste entirely.

Also a bonus, it cooks up really fast - prep time about 5-10 minutes, depending on your knife skillz, and another 15 minutes to cook. Technically, a caponata is designed to be served on crusty bread as an appetizer, but I think it works just as well as a main dish, served with pasta. Definitely a decent vegetarian option!

Recipe breakdown and commentary:
1/2 c. virgin olive oil [you can use less if you're mindful of calories - I usually use 1/4 c., or just enough to cover the bottom of the pan]
1 large Spanish onion [any type of onion is fine]
3 Tbs. pine nuts [TOTALLY optional - pine nuts are friggin pricey]
3 Tbs. currants [nobody actually has currants in their pantry. Chop up a handful of raisins instead, it's pretty much the same thing.]
1 Tbs. hot chili flakes [adjust to taste, I'm a spice wuss]
2 medium/1 large eggplant (yield ~4 c.)
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/4 c. basic tomato sauce [if you don't make your own tomato sauce - although you really should, because it's easy - use any simple pasta sauce. Nothing too fancy or creamy!]
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

How to make it:
Chop up your onion and eggplant. Size of dice/chop is up to you; I like a decent size slice of onion and about a 1/4 inch chop on the eggplant. If you want to have this over pasta, start the water boiling now.

In a large 12 to 14-inch saute pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts (optional), currants and chili flakes to the oil. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes, basically until the onions are translucent.

Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Your pasta water should be boiling happily by now, so start the noodles. A 1 lb. bag will make more than enough to go along with this recipe. [I usually just make enough for two servings (six handfuls of ziti) and set aside the extra caponata for leftovers, but you can do it all at once if you prefer.]

Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. If you don't have enough liquid to really cover the bottom of the pan, add a little bit of water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the mixture about 5 minutes.

After you turn the heat down on the caponata, check on the pasta. It's probably al dente (firm but doesn't stick to your teeth) by now. Drain it and transfer it back to the pot you cooked it in. When the caponata is done simmering, transfer [some or all, depending on how much pasta you made] to the pasta pot. Give it a good stir, salt and pepper to taste, and serve.



Caroline said...

I'm going to have to try this, too. E's never had eggplant, so I'll have to surprise him on it ;)

Do you "drain" the eggplant on a paper towel at all?

Jackie said...

Nope. That's why it's so fabulous. :D

Caroline said...

I'm cooking this on Thursday. . .I found pine nuts for relatively cheap the other day and I've honestly been thinking about this recipe since you posted it!!