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When the Eggplant Is All Things to All Cooks

September 11, 2002|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Caponata is a flavorful, sweet-sour Sicilian cooked salad composed of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, olive oil and vinegar. It's subject to as many variations as there are cooks who prepare it. Typically served as an antipasto, salad side dish or condiment relish, caponata is often made with olives, anchovies and capers, depending on the menu.

This version by my assistant Heather Behm--which includes zucchini and pine nuts--works well with simple roasted or grilled meats. It's perfect as an omelet filling. Add anchovies, fresh basil and Parmesan for a pasta topping. Try it with olives and fresh basil in lasagna or as a simple casserole, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese, baked until browned and sizzling hot. Turn it into a dip, coarsely chopped in the food processor, served chilled with tortilla chips. With the addition of capers, it also makes a tasty garnish for grilled fish, poultry and veal.

Here's an idea, too, for a one-dish, spicy shrimp meal.

Napkin from Sur la Table stores.

Heather's Caponata

Active Work Time: 45 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour * Vegetarian

This can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated. Before serving, stir well and adjust the seasoning.

1 large eggplant, peeled, cut into 2/3-inch dice

Coarse salt

1/3 cup olive oil

2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia, cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 small stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

3 zucchini, cut into 2/3-inch dice

1 large red bell pepper, cut into 2/3-inch dice

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon minced fresh basil

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, optional

Place the eggplant in a colander. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let rest for 30 minutes. Rinse well with cold water, shaking the colander to remove as much water as possible.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the rinsed eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, thyme, 1 tablespoon of salt, the basil and oregano. Cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice, vinegar and honey. Stir well. Simmer, uncovered, until the eggplant is just tender but keeps its shape and is not soft or mushy, about 5 to 7 minutes more. Taste; season to taste with pepper and salt. Stir in the pine nuts, if using.

8 cups or 12 servings. Each serving: 95 calories; 111 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 1.98 grams fiber.

*

Spicy Shrimp and Caponata in Broth

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Serve with warm rustic bread or a side dish of rice or pasta.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno, seeds optional

12 large uncooked, shelled, tail-on shrimp

2 cups Heather's Caponata

1/2 to 2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Chopped cilantro or basil leaves, for garnish, optional

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp; stir-fry until half-cooked, about 1 minute. Stir in the caponata (with juices; do not drain) and 1/2 cup of broth. Cook until hot, about 2 minutes. Add more broth if needed. Taste; adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro or basil, if using.

2 main-course servings. Each serving: 465 calories; 674 mg sodium; 332 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 39 grams protein; 5.08 grams fiber.

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