A former colleague of mine once told me that eggplant has its place…buried in the back yard.
I would heartily disagree.
There is one on my kitchen counter now, and following an email from a friend with a recipe for Caponata, I know what I’m going to do with one of my favorite vegetables. Eggplant grows beautifully in our humid Virginia climate.
Eggplant brings forth visions of a nighttime courtyard in Italy, the fragrance of roses, a seated couple nibbling caponata spread on robust slices of bread and quaffing ruby glasses of Amarone della Valpolicella.
The eggplant (Melanzane in Italian) is considered a vegetable, but is botanically a fruit. Early varieties of eggplant were small and white, hence the name. Eggplant arrived on the European continent when the Moors invaded Spain during the 8th century. Italians first encountered it through trading with Arabs in the 13th century, heartily and passionately embracing eggplant, as did the Spanish and Portuguese. It took three more centuries for the eggplant to catch on in northern Europe, where it was long thought to be poisonous, causing fever and epilepsy, even insanity. No doubt this notion was inspired by eggplant’s membership, along with the tomato, in the deadly Nightshade family.
Eggplant came to the United States via Thomas Jefferson, third President and renaissance man, avid gardener, vintner, gourmand, inventor and architect whose Bedford County retreat, Poplar Forest, is near Lynchburg. Eggplant was one of the then exotic food plants welcomed into his gardens.
1 eggplant, peeled, chopped and lightly sprinkled with salt and set aside to drain. Saute’ in a little good olive oil until tender; do not drain the olive oil.
1 stalk of celery, chopped
½ sweet onion, chopped
Saute celery and onion until tender.
Add the eggplant to the celery and onion, 1 drained can of stewed tomatoes (or fresh), ¼ cup each of black and green olives, chopped, 1 small can of sliced mushrooms, drained, 2 Tablespoons of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 1 heaping Tablespoon of dried parsley. Bring mixture to a simmer until all of the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add more sugar, or vinegar, if desired, to taste.
Serve with fresh or toasted slices of baguette or crackers of choice.
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