There is nothing more summery than this fiery Sicilian dish, based on one of the most easily available and cheap vegetable worldwide: eggplant.
This weird looking, deep purple and shiny vegetable used to have a bitter aftertaste. In my youth I remember cut and salted eggplant layered on clean kitchen towels staying for hours to purge on the kitchen table. But this characteristic is not present anymore in the varieties commercialized in the US, so you can skip this step, making it even easier to use.
The plant was probably introduced in Southern Europe by the Moors in the 8th century, as the Arabic name “al-badinjan” proves, slowly changed in many European languages as “aubergine” in French and “berengena” in Spanish. The Italian name, Melanzana, comes from the Greek version of it, where it took from the word “melas”, meaning the color black.
Interesting enough the English name comes from a variety very rarely seen nowadays of small white round plants, resembling… eggs! In any case the consistency of eggplants is unmistakable: sponge-like and with the capacity to absorbs flavors. Select the varieties with as little seeds as possible, as they can be a little bitter and annoying in the mouth.
Eggplant is particularly low in calories and high in fiber, which makes it a great food for a diet. But careful, because it can absorb a lot of sauce and oil, becoming a very rich dish!
Caponata is a vegetable stew with just a few more ingredients apart from eggplant. It has a cousin in France called ratatouille, that has a similar preparation but much more mellow taste, and similar dishes in the whole Mediterranean area. But the unique characteristic of caponata is the sweet and sour taste, probably inherited from the Arab influence on Sicilian food. It was born as a vegetarian dish but is now mostly served as an appetizer or side dish. The fact that it is best when prepared the day before and served cold, makes it a fantastic recipe for entertaining or for those summer picnics on the beach. Variations on this recipe are numerous, as always in Italian cuisine, but I like to propose to you this one, who has accompanied me all my life without ever letting me down!
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For 4 Servings
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint chicken stock preprepared (or vegetable stock)
1 cup rinsed blueberries
1 cup roasted chestnuts or more, chopped in big pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese (optional)