Remember how I said that I’d rekindled my love for eggplant? Well, part of that was helped along by some amazing caponata—an Italian eggplant appetizer—I had one tempestuous evening at a little Italian restaurant close to Lincoln Center.
There’s something so glamorous about dining al fresco during a storm. While many restaurant patrons made for drier parts, namely indoors, our table staunchly remained, seated at the threshold of getting absolutely drenched. Lightning streaked spectacularly across the sky, sideways(!), followed by the low rumbling of thunder. And the light of passing cars, refracted by the rain, shimmered like mirages, except their honking sounded all too real. I will never tire of these dramatic shows.
But back to that caponata. There we were, seated outside during a thrilling thunderstorm, sheets of rain spraying at us at oblique angles, and I was downing eggplant like there was no tomorrow. It was so flavorful, so moist! I forgot my manners. I was the only un-glamorous element of the whole setup. At least everyone was distracted by the lightning around us and a leak above one of our heads.
Back at home, I tried to replicate the dish, starting with choice eggplant from the Union Square Greenmarket. I will never tire of the Greenmarket. (But I can’t wait for the damn F train to get fixed so I’m not trudging 12 blocks back to the subway with quickly-wilting plant matter.)
It turns out, there’s no one recipe for caponata. At its base, it’s eggplant cooked until it’s really soft, in a tomato-y sauce. But beyond that, well, just as there are thousands of regional cuisines in Italy, there are endless variations of this classic antipasto.
I stuck with good old pantry staples.
I realize it doesn’t appear wholly appetizing, but please try not to judge it harshly. It does its best. Eggplant just sort of, well, does that wilting thing, where it turns grayish-brown and flaccid, but that doesn’t make it any less lovable. Not to me at least.
And its taste? Well, it’s not the same as what I remember. This caponata didn’t turn out as flavorful or as moist. It’s kind of a different food altogether. Less tang, more… something. I wasn’t sure what to think. But then my friend came over the other night, and we shoveled most of it down. As if there was no tomorrow. I forgot my manners. And I must’ve looked so un-glamorous. But I looked up and saw that she wasn’t noticing, because she was doing the same.
Serves 6 to 8
From Bon Appetit
5 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, cubed
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 14-1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings in juice
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp drained capers
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Toasted pine nuts
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add eggplant, onion, and garlic cloves. Saute until eggplant is soft and brown, about 15 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, then red wine vinegar and capers. Cover and simmer until eggplant and onion are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season caponata to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in fresh basil. Transfer caponata to serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.