Italian Appetizereggplant caponata

Eggplant Relish
(Yields 6 cups)

A Sicilian favorite. You can also use this dish as a salad, a topping for Bruschetta or over pasta.

2 lbs. eggplant (peeled and 1" cubes)
1-2 T salt
1/2 C olive oil (divided)
2 C celery (fine dice)
3/4 C onion (fine dice)
1/3 C red wine vinegar
4 tsp. sugar
3 C canned plum tomatoes (drained, large chunks)
2 T tomato paste
6 large green olives (seeded and slivered)
2 T capers (see sidebar)
4 flat anchovies (rinsed, pounded into paste)
salt to taste
2 T pine nuts (toasted)

Eggplant: preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle eggplant cubes with salt and set in colander to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with 2 T oil, place on foil-lined baking sheet and bake, covered, 15 minutes till glistening and tender (not mushy).

Assembly: heat remaining 2 T C oil in large skillet, add celery and onion, cooking 10 minutes till soft. Add eggplant mixture and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes. Combine vinegar with sugar and pour into eggplant-onion mixture. Add remaining ingredients (except pine nuts). Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add pine nuts. 

Serve: refrigerate (relish keeps for a good week or more). Serve chilled or at room temperature with bread or crackers. (You can also serve it over pasta, hot or cold.)

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Tips & Glossary

Arborio Rice: a medium-grained rice. Its high starch content yields a creamy texture and is the basis for risotto.

Balsamic Vinegar: dark, thick vinegar with a sweet pungent flavor. Fermented, concentrated, and aged in wooden casks, sometimes up to 12 years. Can be pricey.

Caper: salty, pickled bud of spiny shrub native to the Mediterranean region. Most prized is the non-pareil, the smallest (approx. 1/8”), though other sizes are tasty and less expensive.

Formaggio: Cheese! Like France, Italy is a land of sublime cheeses, some 400 varieties. Here are some of the most widely sold in the U.S.
Asiago (Alpine region; smooth or crumbly, great for grating.)
Fontina (Alpine region; a Gruyere- or Swiss-type cheese with nutty flavor.)
Mascarpone (southwest of
Milan; triple-cream, smooth and easily spread; used in Tiramisu.)
Mozzarella (generic term for semi-soft cheese; “fresh” is eaten the day it is made; “buffalo” is from water buffalo. Used in lasagna and pizza when dried slightly.)
Parmigiano Reggiano (Parma area; the true Parmesan, whose designation is strictly controlled in Italy.)
Pecorino Romano (made of sheep’s milk; mostly from Sardinia. A hard, salty cheese used for grating.)
Provolone (mostly from northern Italy; semi-hard, varying from mild to sharp flavor.)
Ricotta (made of whey, a by-product of making other cheese; soft and creamy like cottage cheese. Used in lasagna.)
Romano (an American term for Pecorino Romano and other cheeses.)

Italian Seasoning: blend of dried herbs used in Italian cooking—marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil. Packaged commercially and found in most food stores. You can also make your own.

Olive Oil: There's much more to know than is room for here. To learn all you need to know about the different grades of oil, and much, much more, head to Tanbourit.

Pine Nuts: pinoli or pignoli; edible seeds of pine trees used in pesto sauce. Before cooking, release flavor by lightly browning in a heated skillet.

Plum Tomatoes: aka Italian tomatoes; oval-shaped. Used in sauces because they are meatier with fewer seeds than standard tomatoes.

Roasted peppers: buy or make your own: place under a broiler, or hold over a gas flame, till skin chars and blisters. Place in a closed paper bag for 15-20 minutes (to steam them). When cool, the skins slip off under water.

Prosciutto: especially Prosciutto di Parma, dry-cured ham from Parma. The real deal! Cured up to 2 years, is almost sweet and very expensive. You can substitute with capicola, a delicious, light peppery ham.


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