When we saw a bunch of beautiful eggplants at the market last week, we knew they would be on the menu at our farm house dinner. The only question was in what form. We already had the menu fairly set in stone weeks ago (cheese, fish, and these vegetables), so we made this delicious eggplant caponata to serve as an appetizer with wine and beer.
We learned a lot about eggplant from Mamma Agata. The most important tips we learned were not to choose “voluptuous” eggplants (they lack flavor), to peel the eggplant in alternating strips (leave some of the skin on), and to salt the eggplant and let it drain (this removes bitterness).
Making the caponata is really simple. We used our favorite peeler, which is great for thin-skinned items like tomatoes and eggplants, to peel the eggplant in alternating strips. It should have approximately 1” stripes of skin remaining. Then we diced the eggplant into ½” dice and tossed them in a strainer (actually, our salad spinner) to drain. While the eggplant is draining, we prepped the rest of our ingredients ready.
A lot of people don’t like eggplant, but when cooked correctly, it can be fantastic! Ideally, we like to use peanut oil to fry. It tastes amazing and has a higher smoking point than vegetable, olive, and canola oil, so there’s less smell and splatter. Keep an eye out this summer for more of our favorite eggplant dishes like “Pasta alla Lucia.”
To finish your eggplant caponata, you’ll just need to saute your drained eggplant in a large skillet, then toss in the rest of the ingredients. One trick we learned from our Italian friends is that if you use a nonstick skillet, you’ll need less oil to saute the eggplant.
A few notes on this recipe: You don’t need expensive salt to drain the eggplants. This salt or grey sea salt is fine. Most caponata recipes call for capers. We’ve omitted them because after salting and draining the eggplant, capers would make the finished dish too salty. We used this Mutti tomato puree for Mamma Agata’s tomato sauce. We’ve tried all different kinds and it’s our go-to. Finally, you’ll dice a lot of vegetables making this recipe, so a good sharp chef’s knife is key. Our favorites are this one and this one.
- Peel the eggplants with a vegetable peeler in alternating long strips. Leaving about 1” wide strips of skin on the eggplant. Cut into approximately ½” dice. Put all of the eggplant into a strainer (we use a salad spinner) and sprinkle liberally with salt. Toss to coat, and let sit for about 30 minutes to an hour.
- Drain any extra liquid from the eggplant, then press out more juices. Using a salad spinner helps extract more liquid.
- Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a pan in a large skillet. Add the eggplant and saute until they are soft. Remove onto a plate.
- Add more oil to the pan and reduce the heat slightly. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, and saute until they are very soft and begin to turn golden. Return the eggplant to the pan and add tomato sauce, raisins, olives, and some torn basil leaves and cook until the eggplant is very soft, around 10-15 minutes.
- Drizzle in balsamic vinegar to taste, then finish seasoning with salt and pepper. You can serve this chilled or at room temperature, with toast or on crostini.