This is a follow up to the post I made last week entitled Good Food, Fast. You don’t have to read that one in order to get this one, but it would be nice.
Although you can make a great meal in less than 10 minutes, sometimes it pays to spend a lot of time cooking. I had picked up a nice Italian eggplant at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, and decided to make a fresh caponata.
I peeled the eggplant the way Lidia Bastianich recommends; peel it in strips every few inches, leaving kind of vertical zebra stripes on it. Then I cut it into cubes about an inch square. I started cooking the cubes in olive oil on medium heat, and then just walked away. I let the eggplant brown slowly, for about 45 minutes, stirring them about every five minutes. When the cubes are nice and soft, move them off to the sides of the pan and add a little more olive oil. This creates a hot spot in the pan for the next step.
I sliced some grape tomatoes lengthwise and added them to the hot spot, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and chile flakes. Then I let the tomatoes cook for about 10 minutes. When they were nice and cooked through I mixed them in with the eggplant. I turned up the heat and added some roughly chopped basil. Then I added the juice of one lemon. When the liquid had reduced down, I added a little red wine vinegar (mixing lemon juice and vinegar is something I have been doing lately, it gives an incredible depth to the acidity of the dish). When this liquid had reduced, I added some capers and their brine, mixed it all together, and turned the heat down again.
I let it cook some more while I made the pasta — schiaffone, which is a short, wide tube. When the pasta was just short of perfect, I added the schiaffone and some of the pasta water to the pan with the eggplant and let it cook on high heat for about a minute. To finish it I splashed a little more olive oil and fresh basil on top and turned off the heat.
Sure, you could eat it warm, but why would you when it’s even better after sitting for a bit at room temperature. I know, you’ve been waiting a long time, and you’re probably hungry, so I suggest this compromise — eat a plate of it warm to tide you over while the rest of it cools.
All together, including cooling time, it probably took about an hour and a half to make this dish, but it was definitely worth it. The long, slow cooking of the eggplant brings out a smoky flavor, and the aforementioned acidity is perfectly suited to that. It doesn’t even need any cheese.