It all started with verdure grigliate. It’s very often a contorni or side dish choice on Italian restaurant menus. And when you order the mixed grilled vegetables, you usually get eggplant, zucchini and red peppers; a lovely and beautiful combination. When it’s prepared so simply; grilled, then drizzled with olive oil, it’s quite delicious. Of course the fact that you’re sitting in a beautiful Italian piazza, across from the one you love with a glass of wine in the other hand doesn’t hurt either. Back in the U.S., I tried making it this way and something was lost in the translation…..I no longer liked eggplant.
So, back to Italy again. (No, I don’t go to Italy just to force myself to eat eggplant. That would be silly….or would it?) I had an opportunity to go to Sicily with my husband on a business trip. What an amazing trip! We ate our way from one end of the island to the other. We saw some pretty fabulous sights as well and then ate some more. Oh, and some business happened. But one of the best food things that happened was that I fell in love with eggplant again! We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was newly opened. It was so obvious; fresh paint on the walls, everything brand new, etc. They were thrilled to have some business and foreigners at that. The owner kept bringing us things to try and every time he set something on the table he told us that papa made it. The very first thing he brought us was a bowl of warm caponata with a basket of bread. Eggplant love.
1 large eggplant
½ of a medium onion, chopped
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes in their own sauce (preferably Italian imported)
Green olives, pitted and sliced (As many as you like. I actually used a combo of green and black.)
2 T. capers, rinsed
2 T. pine nuts, toasted
2 T. raisins
Fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp of red wine vinegar mixed in a small bowl with 1 tsp of sugar to dissolve
Peel and cube your eggplant. Spread the cubes out over a layer of paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with salt and let them sweat while you chop up some other ingredients. They need about 30 minutes to sweat. Very soon, you’ll see them release their little beads of perspiration. After about 30 minutes, gather them up in the paper towels to absorb the excess moisture, and toss them back out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle them with a bit of olive oil, rub them all around a bit and put the pan in your hot oven for about 15-20 minutes. When they come out they’re beautiful little golden spongy cubes ready to absorb all the yummy flavors you’re about to add to the caponata.