Roasted eggplant caponata crostini recipeFood For Thought
(March 17, 2017) Europe, Africa and Asia share one thing in common; if you guessed the Mediterranean Sea, you are correct.
This breathtaking ocean and all of its magical wonder has been a vital contributor to the evolution and heart of the Mediterranean cuisine.
The coherence of the Mediterranean world has meant that the people inhabiting its shores encompass a peasant quality that puts emphasis on the purity of ingredients and the simplicity of conception.
The different countries have much in common despite their manifold differences in language and religion. Exposure to comparable geographic environments preconditioned the regions for trade which influenced provincial interpretations.
Spicy nutmeg, pungent cumin, sweet cinnamon, colorful turmeric, spiced olives, salty capers, luscious eggplant, juicy tomatoes, crunchy chickpeas, preserved lemons, decadent figs, fresh melons and flavored couscous are just a sampling of the many embellishments that enhance the comprehensive Mediterranean menu.
The prominence of the sea is reinforced by the paucity of pastureland that tends to make beef a rarity. That being said, sheep farming is not as dependent on lush pastures making lamb and mutton much more prominent.
Before we cross the Mediterranean Sea and head back to the Atlantic Ocean, let us take a few moments to refresh ourselves with two ingredients not commonly used in American cooking, capers and eggplant.
Does one know what a caper is? The world of food is fascinating if you are willing to delve into the book of knowledge. Capers are the unopened flower buds of a thorny shrub that is indicative of the Mediterranean.
According to Cook’s Illustrated, they are difficult to cultivate, and prefer dry, stony places. Believe it or not, but capers are never used fresh. Contrary to popular belief, the quality of the caper is inversely related to their size; the smaller, the better.
Eggplant fundamentals are the next topic for discussion. Eggplant comes in a range of shapes and sizes. Globe eggplants (purple) are the largest and most common. The flesh of an eggplant should give a bit when gently pressed. The skin should be shiny and smooth, avoid those with brown or soft spots.
Globe eggplants can have a bitter taste. One must prep globe eggplants before using. Simply salt the entire surface of the flesh for at least 30 minutes; the bitter moisture will “sweat” out of the flesh. Rinse the eggplant thoroughly and dry with paper towels. The eggplant is then ready to cook according to instructions.
Whole eggplant will keep up to a few days in a cool place. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator, as it will damage the eggplants texture.
Caponata is a dish of eggplant, olives and capers and seasoned with herbs that is typically served as an appetizer. Because eggplant absorbs flavors easily, it makes a great topping for bruschetta.
Eggplant is delicious but the flesh is not the most attractive ingredient. Keeping this in mind, ingredients must be chosen not only for their flavor but also for their beautification purposes.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is included in the following recipe. This may seem a bit unusual but it compliments the earthiness of the eggplant and adds depth of flavor.
Roasted eggplant capanata crostini accompanied with a glass of wine is a wonderful pairing. Just remember you will need to choose a wine that can stand up to the acidity of the caponata and at the same time showcase the flavors of the vegetables. A Riesling is a perfect choice for roasted eggplant caponata crostini. Buon Appetito!
Roasted Eggplant Caponata Crostini
1 large eggplant (1 ½ pounds)
good quality olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons black salt cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped finely
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnishing
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
¼ cup favorite tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 baguette, sliced diagonally
1. Slice eggplant lengthwise into 4 layers. Heavily salt and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant slices thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
3. Rub eggplant with olive oil and roast until soft, about 30 minutes. When eggplant has cooled, coarsely chop.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Brush each slice of baguette with olive oil. Place slices of baguettes on a sheet pan and bake until golden brown. Set aside.
5. In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant, onions, garlic and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
6. Add raisins, capers, olives, red pepper flakes, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder and cook for another 5 minutes.
7. Add the basil, thyme, pine nuts, tomato sauce, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and constantly stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the dish comes together, about 5 minutes.
8. Allow caponata to cool completely and serve with crostini. Garnish with fresh thyme.
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