Summer’s Here Eggplant Caponata

caponata

Summer’s Here Eggplant Caponata

Our favorite part of summer is people. Shrieking, barefooted children who fall asleep in a pile, neighbors who come by for a drink and a bite that turns into dinner, new friends at barbecues, family we don’t see nearly often enough. We love to gather, everyone bringing a dish to share, platters passed, dinner eaten on knees as fireflies wink on out back. Potlucks and family gatherings make for easy living, but what to bring when everyone else is bringing who knows what? We’re astounded that every gathering doesn’t result in a big table of nothing but brownies and watermelon, but somehow it seems to work out. Here’s one of our favorite dishes for shared dinners–an easy do-ahead-if-you-need-to caponata with silky eggplant in a rich, complex, fresh tomato sauce that hits all the right notes. It works as a salad, a side dish, a relish for grilled meats, or as an appetizer on sliced baguette. No matter what everyone else brings, it plays along beautifully.

Serves: 4-6
Total Time: 60 minutes

  • 1 large or 2-3 small eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 4 Tbs kosher salt
  • 4 Tbs olive oil + extra for frying eggplant
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 c celery, cut into 2″ pieces, inner leaves reserved and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound tomatoes, diced (juices reserved)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/3 c kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbs capers, drained
  • a small handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped

Instructions:

  1. Place eggplant cubes in a colander and salt with 4 Tbs kosher salt. Set aside in the sink to drain for 20-30 minutes. When eggplant has drained, rinse the salt off with cool water and spread on a kitchen towel to dry, patting the top dry.
  2. Heat 4 Tbs olive oil in a braising pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add onions and celery and saute for 10 minutes until onion begins to turn translucent. Add garlic and lower heat to medium and continue cooking until vegetables are soft and have taken on some color. Add chopped tomatoes and a pinch of red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until tomatoes are a sauce, about 8-10 minutes. Turn heat to low to finish the dish.
  3. Heat an additional slick of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Fry eggplant in batches to avoid overcrowding, removing to a large bowl as it is cooked. You want the outside golden and crisp and the inside creamy. When all the eggplant is cooked and in the bowl, sprinkle with vinegar and season with a pinch of salt, Add tomato mixture, toasted pine nuts, olives, capers, basil, and reserved celery leaves.
  4. Give everything a gentle stir and serve at warm room temperature. Caponata keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week – bring to room temperature before serving.

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