Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eggplant the easy way: Caponata

This is a great way to use eggplant and tomatoes, two things I tend to have in surplus this time of year!  But what I really love about this dish is its versatility: it works well as a side dish with steak or fish, or as a meal in itself with bread.  I'll even eat the leftovers cold on good bread (ciabatta, fresh rolls, or just toast!).
And it's fast - ready in no time at all!

DISCLAIMER: I am not Italian, and make no claims to that effect.  This is just a really tasty dish, which I enjoy making and refer to as caponata - I make no claims regarding the authenticity of this recipe, and suspect that genuine Sicilian caponata is a very different dish which also happpens to involve eggplant.
Take a couple of small eggplants, or one large one, or a combination (I often use a pile of long, skinny and small, round ones - just guess at the same volume as a large black eggplant)

Slice lengthways, turn and slice again:

 Slice across-ways one last time to make cute little squares.  These are about 2.5-3cm

Heat a wok or frypan, and add a couple of tablespoons of oil.  (I use rice bran, because it's light and doesn't smoke at high temperatures).  You want the pan to be really hot.  If a splash of water sizzles instantly, you're ready to cook.
Brown the eggplant in batches.  It doesn't need to be cooked right through at this stage, but seal the surface area, and get it nice and golden:

Meanwhile, finely chop an onion:

Throw into the pan (with the eggplant), and stir until the onion has softened.  Push it all to one side to clear a space at the bottom of the pan, add a little more oil, and add a clove of garlic (chopped or crushed), and about a tablespoon of capers (drain first.  I roughly chop mine so that they go further).  Stir these until the garlic starts to colour (you want a soft golden colour, not brown).

Before the garlic browns (burned garlic is bitter), stir through about 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar.  Once this has evaporated, throw in 1-2 cups of chopped tomatoes - a can works just fine if you don't have fresh ones. Add 1Tbsp of tomato paste, a handful of oregano (or 1-2tsp of dried oregano), and a handful of kalamata olives (pitted).  Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens.
Add olive oil if the texture seems dry - I like mine a little oily, but this comes down to personal preference.
Serve with a splash of balsamic, or more oil!

Edit note: have updated the first and last photos - thanks Jason for taking much better pics than me!  Fortunately I make this fairly often this time of year, and get a chance to re-shoot!

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