A favorite in Mediterranean cuisine, eggplant can be baked, roasted, grilled, used as a pizza topping or in stir-fry recipes. It has a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture that may vary depending on the color/variety of eggplant selected. Dress your cooked eggplant with herbs, sauces, and condiments and you’ll be sure to please even the pickiest guest at your dinner table.
Eggplant contains a phytonutrient (plant chemical with nutritional benefits) called nasunin. Nasunin acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage. In addition, eggplant contains a wealth of other antioxidants that support brain and heart health. In research studies, one variety of eggplant – called Black Magic – was found to have three times the antioxidant properties compared to several other types of eggplant. It’s also a terrific source of dietary fiber, copper, potassium and B vitamins.
It’s best to buy eggplant in-season during the months August through October. It comes in all sorts of shapes (baseball size to a thick crescent) and a cornucopia of colors such as lavender, jade green, and yellow-white. Choose eggplants that are firm, vivid in color, and heavy for their size. The skin should be smooth, shiny and without damage.
To test for ripeness, press your thumb into the eggplant. If the skin doesn’t “spring back,” it’s not ripe. Eggplant is highly perishable so don’t cut it before storing. Keep it stored in a food crisper or on the shelf in the fridge for a few days.
Makes 4-6 Servings
Satisfying and versatile, eggplant can handle a variety of flavorful accompaniments, several of which give a kick to this Sicilian favorite. The tomato base is spiked with anchovies, garlic, and capers, creating a mouth-watering aroma and a burst of flavor in every bite. Serve as an appetizer, a main dish or as a side with your favorite fish.
2 large Italian eggplants, peeled and cut into medium dice
2 Tbs kosher salt
5 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle
2 anchovies, in oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup capers, in brine
*Peel and dice the eggplants, peel and slice the onion, peel and slice the garlic, slice the celery.
*In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the salt. Transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for 2 hours. In order to facilitate the draining, top the eggplant with a heavy weight, such as a dinner plate topped with full cans.
*Heat 3 Tbs of the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and celery and sauté for 5 minutes more, or until the garlic softens but does not brown. Add the anchovies and cook for 1 minute.
*Add the tomato paste and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the paste turns a deep red, almost brown, and starts to stick to the pan. Add the vinegar and sugar and stir until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat.
*In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the eggplant and carefully toss it in the oil, letting it sear before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is translucent and soft.
*Transfer the eggplant to the caponata mixture and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the flavors combine. Add the capers and their brine and stir to incorporate.
Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied by toast points or crostini.