Monday, September 17, 2012

Tapas Sunday: Eggplant Caponata

Robust and rich, this flavorful eggplant dish makes a wonderful appetizer with flatbread or toasted baguette. Eggplant is cooked with onions, tomato, garlic, olive oil, capers, olives, and fresh herbs until soft, then sprinkled with toasted nuts and served hot, room temperature, or cold. It seems like every cook has their own version of caponata. I looked at several caponata recipes for reference, but in the end I relied mostly on  my personal taste. The resulting eggplant dish was savory and oh-so-satisfying. I can't wait to try the leftovers with pasta!

Farmer's market fresh ingredients that I used for the caponata: Eggplant, basil, mint, parsley, cherry tomatoes, a green zebra tomato, red onion, and garlic.
Caponata is most often served with toasted pine nuts - but I had slivered almonds, so that's what I used.
Getting Toasty!
I chopped up the eggplant, onion, and garlic, then added them to a pot with a generous glug of olive oil, and let it cook until soft, about 20 minutes. 
While the eggplant was cooking, I prepared the other ingredients. I chopped up the green zebra tomato and rinsed the small cherry tomatoes. I measured out a tablespoon of capers, and chopped up about 5 green stuffed mazanilla olives. Most recipes call for tomato paste, but I was out - so I added 1/2 TBSP of roasted red pepper paste I got at the farmer's market...yum!
These ingredients were added to the pan along with 4 TBSP red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp sugar, salt, pepper, dried thyme, and a pinch of cocoa powder. I covered the mixture and let it cook for about 15 minutes, then removed the cover and let cook for about 10 more minutes, until the eggplant was very soft but not mushy, and the liquid from the tomatoes had thickened up.
The chopped herbs were added last - 1/4 cup of chopped basil, with some mint and parsley thrown in for good measure.
The caponata was served at room temperature (it was agonizingly hot this weekend!), sprinkled with toasted almonds. Fresh toasted pita bread wedges were the perfect scoop for the elegant eggplant dip, and an assortment of peperoncini, olives, and gherkins rounded out the spread. (ELEGANT EGGPLANT!)
We also had some delicious tapenade and the aforementioned roasted red pepper paste to go with the meal, along with a bright salad of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, cannelini beans, lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped fresh herbs. 

It was a pretty good weekend for food at our house! Other highlights include cantaloupe mojitos and pan-fried tofu with a tasty hoisin-based sauce (Nate made the sauce!). Actually it was just an amazing weekend in general. We went to the beach and just got to spend lots of quality time together, out and about and at home. *sigh*

A last note on the caponata - if you've never made it before and are sick of making eggplant Parmesan, I highly recommend it. This is definitely a new favorite eggplant recipe for Nate and I, and would also be a great hearty pasta sauce or topping for chicken breasts...I plan on trying it in many different recipes and will keep you posted!

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