Chosen Bites: Sicilian eggplant with Jewish roots

Whether dark purple, pale lavender, white, spotted, long, short or round, eggplants are best purchased in the summer when they are in season.

August 11, 2011 09:33
2 minute read.

Caponata 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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A recent trip to the farmer’s market yielded a cornucopia of gorgeous, plump eggplant. In fact, I found so many different varieties and colors of eggplant; I could not decide which to purchase, so I bought some of each.

They were dark purple, pale lavender, white, spotted, long, short, round and everything in between. Eggplants are best purchased in the summer when they are in season.

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One of my favorite preparations of eggplant is Caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian dish similar to a chopped and cooked vegetable salad. Sicilian cuisine is complex and owes its use of many flavors and influences to its diverse history and demographics. Many Sicilian dishes have Jewish roots and come from Jews taken as slaves after Israel’s destruction thousands of years ago.

Caponata is an agrodolce or sweet and sour dish with vinegar and raisins. The surprising and added touch of unsweetened chocolate brings out the eggplants smokiness. The final result is a brightly flavored, complex and satisfying first course or main dish. Serve the Caponata dollopped on grilled bread and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil or with roasted fish or chicken or tossed with pasta.


1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
¼ cup tomato paste, thinned with 1/4 cup water
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
½ cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup balsamic
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup finely shredded basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
 Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3–4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.

2. Pour off all but 1/4 cup oil, and reserve for another use. Return skillet to heat, add onions, crushed chili flakes, cinnamon and fennel, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 10 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to medium, and add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized and darkened in color, about 1–2 minutes.

4. Add crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

5. Transfer the mixture to a bowl with eggplant, add the basil and pine nuts, and mix together.

6. Season with salt and pepper, and let cool to room temperature before serving.

7. Serve the Caponata on thick slices of grilled bread, drizzled with olive oil and shaved parmesan cheese (optional) as a first course or light summer supper.

Laura Frankel is the executive chef at Spertus Kosher Catering and the author of Jewish Cooking for all Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.

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