I’ve been on an eggplant kick lately. It’s summertime and eggplant are everywhere in the farmer’s markets and grocery stores. People seem to be terrified of eggplant, probably because they don’t know how to cook it. The beautiful thing about these great vegetables is that they can be prepared so many different ways: grilled, fried, baked, or stewed. The real secret is to salt them for about 30 minutes before cooking, to remove the bitterness, and when frying, to use insanely hot grape seed oil. Grape seed oil works best because it has a very high smoke point (216 °C or 421 °F) and minimizes the amount of oil absorbed by the eggplant.
Using smaller eggplants works best: they have fewer seeds, and some people say they are less bitter.
Caponata alla Siciliana MUST be made the day before serving. It really needs to marinate and meld in the fridge overnight. Serve it on toasted bread as a crostini, or spoon some onto your plate and enjoy it with a fork.
Ingredients and Directions:
- About 1/4 cup grape seed oil
- About 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 small eggplants
- 1/2 cup medium diced onion
- 1/2 cup medium chopped celery
- 1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives
- 3 tablespoons drained bottled capers
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted lightly*
- 3 plum tomatoes, cut into a 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup), or one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leafed parsley leaves
* Pine nuts have become a very expensive product. You can substitute other small nuts such as roasted sunflower seeds or roasted pumpkin seeds.
- Slice the eggplant into 1/2–inch thick disks and salt each slice on both sides. Place in a colander for about 30 minutes or until you see a great deal of liquid seep from the eggplant. Wipe off the water and salt with a paper towel. Stack the disks and cut them into ½-inch cubes.
- In a heavy skillet, heat the grape seed oil over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. In it cook the diced eggplant, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it is tender and lightly browned. Transfer the eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels. Wipe the skillet with a paper towel to remove any burnt eggplant bits and any remaining grape seed oil.
- To the skillet add the olive oil and cook the onion and the celery over moderate heat, stirring, for 5 minutes or until soft.
- Add the olives, the capers, the vinegar, the sugar, the raisins, the pine nuts, and the tomatoes to the pan and cook the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft. Remove from heat and add the cooked eggplant to the skillet and stir to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature.
- Stir in the parsley and chill the mixture, covered, overnight to let the flavors combine.
- Season the caponata with salt and pepper