While waiting for my plane to board in Seattle last weekend, I wandered into the airport bookstore. The latest edition of Saveur caught my eye. The cover story: Oh, Sicily! Given that I'm about to embark on a blissful 4-week trip to Italy, I couldn't help but pick up a copy for plane reading. To prepare my taste buds for the magic that is to come, today I tried one of the recipes: caponata (subtitle: sweet and sour eggplant).
Eggplant is squarely not in season currently in California. If I hadn't already been aware, the $7 price tag on the 4 unassuming Japanese eggplants I procured from the local grocer would have clued me in. I didn't care. The combination of ingredients in this recipe sounded too good to wait for. I had originally been planning on consuming the caponata with some chickpeas I have on hand. But one bite made clear the need to pair it with some sort of rustic bread.
So I strapped on my shoes for a walk in the drizzle to pick up a loaf. I'm glad that I did. Caponata on a thick slice of olive bread... mi piace (molto, molto). The dish is at once tangy, salty, and sweet. I'm enjoying another slice right now along with a big glass of red wine and a bottle of San Pellegrino. The whole house smells delicious.
While already ecstatic for the trip, if tasting these lovely flavors is so magical in my own kitchen, I can't even fathom how amazing the flavors will be when consumed in Italia. So, with that, cole's kitch is going to be closed for a bit. But don't fret: I plan to return with much inspiration.
If your travels have taught you any treasures in Italy that I simply must see (or eat!), please leave me a comment. My itinerary at this point includes Bologna, Sicily (Taormina), the Amalfi Coast, and Rome, plus an unplanned week of adventure that is yet to be determined.
No trips to Italy in your near future? Here's how you can bring a bit of Sicily to you:
a lot of olive oil*
2 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. tomato paste, thinned with 1/4 c. water
1 can crushed tomatoes
6 oz. green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. sugar**
2 Tbps. finely chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/2 c. finely shredded basil***
2 Tbsp. pine nuts****
*The recipe calls for 3 cups of olive oil. While frying the eggplant does take quite a bit, I think I ended up using about 1 cup in total.
**I substituted agave nectar for sugar.
***I forgot to pick up basil; the dish was still amazing without it.
****I toasted the pine nuts.
Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.
Pour off all but 1/4 c. oil and reserve for another use. Return skillet to heat, add onions and celery, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Transfer to bowl with eggplant, along with basil and pine nuts. Mix together. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature before serving.
I recommend serving over crusty bread.