I first alluded to this dish back when I posted on a cold noodle salad I’d made for a dinner in my favorite style: that is to say, tapas, or little plates. It’s a trendy word these days, but eight times out of 10 I’d rather have a cocktail party at my table over a big plate of food.
This past week, almost two years later, that dish came to mind again. We’d been invited to an Italian-style potluck, and as usual, I signed up for appetizers. It was a mid-week gathering, and so being the working woman that I am, I had to enlist my second set of hands to do the dirty work, once I’d thought up our piece de resistance. There was so much food that we went home with enough to serve again to friends on Friday night. With fresh mussels, green salad from their garden (in February?!? What is this California or something?), and a cheese plate, it was tapas time all over again.
If you love the meaty, mushroom-meets-scallops consistency of long-cooked eggplants, then get out your pan because this is a recipe for you. It doesn’t skimp on the olive oil, making it what I’d imagine to be an authentic Sicilian caponata, perfect for soaking up soft and crusty Italian bread (we ate ours all up, hence the crackers’ debut in these photos).
Best of all? This stuff just keeps getting better as it sits in your fridge, and can be used as an impromptu pizza topping for pitas, or just eaten straight outta the jar with a spoon. I found Bittman’s use of olive oil a tad excessive (although it was lovely how it soaked up the pigment from the peppers and eggplant) so feel free to reduce to four tablespoons if you want to experiment with a lower-fat version. Try it at least once with the full six tablespoons, though.
makes enough (appetizers-worth) for a good-sized party
about 2 pounds eggplant (2 medium)
salt to taste
4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, drained and crushed
3 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
handful of chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes. Salt them liberally and place in a colander for a half-hour or more. Rinse them thoroughly, then press between paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. (This step helps cut their bitterness)
- Place the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant, stirring and shaking almost constantly, until it absorbs all the oil and begins to brown and soften. Add the black pepper, chopped onion, garlic, red pepper, and tomatoes, and continue to cook until everything is soft and the mixture is thick and stewy, about 15 minutes. Don’t overcook—the veggies should still be distinct.
- Add the capers, sugar, vinegar, parsley, and a bit of salt and pepper, if needed. Remove from heat. Serve at room temperature. (You can bring this dish back to room temperature from the fridge easily by heating it on 50% power in the microwave for two or three minutes).
Dress it up: For a “raisins n’ pine nuts” version, soak a half-cup of raisins in red wine and add them with the onions (their liquid too) in Step 2. In Step 3, add a half-cup of lightly toasted pine nuts with the capers. You can also add a half-cup of pitted and chopped green or black olives along with the capers.