September is the biggest harvest month in the community share-cropping gardens. That means that we have to do something with the perishable stuff we grew all summer. While I think zucchini make excellent compost, I want to use each and every eggplant, no matter how small. I have spent years convincing my husband that we need ever greater numbers of eggplants, but in order to sway him, I have to actually make something from the eggplants that he likes to eat.
When I first started cooking seasonally and locally in the 1970’s, the only two eggplant dishes I had ever heard of were eggplant parmesan and ratatouille. I happen to dislike ratatouille, just a personal preference like my irrational dislike of celery, and do not like the fat-drenched, calorie-laden eggplant parmesan found in most Italian restaurants. I manage to make a version of eggplant parm we like at home by leaving out the mozzarella and most of the oil and cutting back on the tomato sauce.
A friend of mine introduced me to caponata more than 20 years ago and I have made it ever since, varying the recipe as I see fit, sometimes adding diced fresh chiles since I add hot chiles to almost everything. We grow the eggplants, tomatoes, basil, onions and garlic that go into it, so it feels very virtuous. Some people make sweet caponata, with raisins, cinnamon and sugar, but I like it savory. Next to eggplant fricassee, it is my favorite eggplant dish at the moment. Just for good measure, I’ll give you both recipes. The eggplant fricassee recipe is adapted from my favorite Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which is one of the two cookbooks I would take with me if I moved to Belize or Iceland or something. The other one clearly being Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 hefty eggplant, cut into small bite sized cubes (I peel it, it is up to you)
1 medium onion, cut into small cubes
4 cloves garlic, chopped into match-head sized pieces
6- 8 ounces of drained olives, green or black or both, pitted and sliced
1 cup diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons drained capers
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
a handful of fresh chopped basil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Toss in the eggplant, onion and garlic and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the olives, tomatoes, capers, vinegar and basil. Lower heat and cook, covered, for another 10-12 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Remove from heat and add the pine nuts, salt and lots of pepper. Eat on crackers at room temperature or toss into hot linguine topped with parmesan cheese. Keeps covered in refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Eggplant Fricassee, adapted from The Silver Spoon
2 medium eggplants, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
two handfuls chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1 10-ounce can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chiles, or a cup of diced tomatoes and a diced jalapeno pepper
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper
Melt butter and oil in a heavy pan, then add onion and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add eggplant, tomatoes, chile, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Beat eggs with lemon juice and pour over eggplant mixture while still hot. Toss rapidly so the eggs coat the eggplant without scrambling. Eat immediately, either plain or on top of pasta.