Eggplant Caponata: An Appetizer To Die For

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm extremely excited to post this blog. I'm always looking for recipes that combine seasonal ingredients, great balance of flavor, and have a rustic history about them. This recipe for eggplant caponata from Mario Batali's treatise on Italian cooking, Molto Italiano, delivers all of the above in a classic, robust, colorful KO to your tastebuds. The use of cinnamon, cocoa, and dried currants in a savory dish will blow your mind and your palate with a spicy warmth that is perfect for this colder season. I warn you will be making this every single week.

I'm loving this as an appetizer for Thanksgiving actually. Especially if you need food that can be made in advance and set out at room temperature, this is an easy appetizer that will get the palate moving for the big feast without making you slave away in the kitchen.

Eggplant Caponata
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large spanish onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp pine nuts
3 Tbsp dried currants
1 Tbsp hot red pepper flakes
2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves of 1/2 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup basic tomato sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, cut into 3/4 inch rounds and toasted

In a 10-12 inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onion, garlic, pine nuts, currants, and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion is softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and cook for 5 minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and vinegar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. (the caponata can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. bring to room temperature before serving)

To serve, spoon the caponata onto the crostini and arrange on a platter, or put it into a bowl with the crostini on the side so your guests can help themselves.

My Notes: I substituted 1 finely diced serrano chile for the red pepper flakes because shockingly, I ran out! The point is to get the spice from somewhere, be it dried flakes or a fresh chile.

I also added 1 tsp of capers for an added salty bite which I found perfectly balanced this dish into a rounded flavor: sweet, sour, and salty all at the same time.

If you're planning to serve this at a party then I highly recommend serving in a bowl with the sliced baguettes (crostini) on the side and letting people help themselves. Don't forget to include as mall spoon or knife to help them!

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