I like the whole spicy, sweet & sour idea of eggplant caponata- which is a Sicilian eggplant relish that is often eaten as appetizer on crostini (toasted bread rounds) or alongside a main . I chased many a recipes and ended up– lost in the internets– on this Batali recipe. The combination of cinnamon, sugar and cocoa plus lots of red chili flakes, currants, pine nuts- intrigued me. I have to say that actually all Batali recipes I have tried are very heavy on the chili flake- so keep that in mind and reduce if you feel- it can be a bit overpowering. Anyway, for some bizarre reason this Caponata involves making a basic tomato sauce– which although sounds like too much extra work– felt like a good idea at the time. What happened was I spent many weeks not cooking at all– then finally I just went nuts and made like 5 things in a night (including orange sherbet- post to come, damn that shit was good. like creamsicles). I wouldn’t say that Batali’s basic tomato sauce is my favorite (i prefer the hazan) but in attempts to use some of the leftovers I made this bacon/pancetta tomato sauce– and boom! takes it up a level (perhaps I should be riffing Emeril-like phrases to describe a Batali recipe) but all in all– a wholly worthwhile exercise.
Let me also add that I made this sauce too b/c some lady on the cooking channel comments said the caponata is much better when using Batali’s sauce. Which isn’t to say- if you have some jarred stuff (heaven forbid) in your pantry that it wouldn’t work. Also, when consuming the rest of your jar, I think it would be safe to say that it would be bumped up a notch by giving it the bacon/pancetta treatment.
Batali’s Eggplant Caponata
1/2 cup virgin olive oil [i definitely skimped on this amount]
1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice [used regular onion]
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons currants
1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups) [i used one large eggplant]
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 sprigs mint, chopped [didn’t have so left out]
1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven
I added a first step. Chopped eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Generously toss w. kosher salt. Let sit in a colander, over a bowl, for an hour to drain bitter liquid. Rinse well. Squeeze dry (thoroughly) w. paper towels. This gets out excess moisture so it doesn’t suck up all your oil.
In a large 12-14 in saute pan, over med heat, heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until softened.
Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil. [well I wouldn’t say there is quite enough liquid to consider boil, but it bubbles aggressively?]
Lower heat and simmer for 5 mins. [some reviewers say it takes longer– so keep cooking until the eggplant is soft enough to your liking. I was surprised this didn’t take that long, perhaps b/c i salted first, maybe 10 mins?]
Remove from heat, cool to room temp. Garnish w. more red chili flakes and mint [i skipped that step.]
Cut baguette into slices. Drizzle w. olive oil and toast in the over for a few minutes. Serve together. I also served w. Ricotta Salata (a salty cheese pictured above) but this is not really necessary.
Batali’s basic tomato sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice [used regular]
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is softened. Add the tomatoes and juice [can liquid] and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Makes 4 cups.
Pasta all’Amatriciana [w. bacon, pancetta or guanciale]
I would say this recipe- as I made it- was quite different than as Batali wrote it because I cut the bacon etc. to 1/4 of a pound- and used half bacon/half unsmoked pancetta (as that is what I had on hand). This gave a great subtle bacon flavor to the whole pasta- but wasn’t so overwhelming so that all you could taste was bacon. I would recommend doing as I did. This pasta also recommended w. Bucatini- a hose-shaped pasta. I didn’t have but used fresh pasta from Russo’s– long spaghetti-length spirals. Delish.
3/4 pound guanciale, thinly sliced, or substitute smoked pancetta or bacon [i used 1/4 pound combo of bacon and unsmoked pancetta- which is a few slices of each)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes [I think I cut this down to 1 tsp]
2 cups basic tomato sauce [see above]
1 pound bucatini or other pasta
Parm, pecorino romano or caciocavallo (?) cheese for grating [didn’t have but did have some extra ricotta salata on hand]
salt and pepper
Bring water to a boil and add a generous tablespoon of salt for pasta.
In a 12 to 14 in saute pan, spread your pork product of choice in a single layer- cooking over med-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered out. Remove bacon etc from pan and put on a plate lined w. paper towels.
Depending on how much fat you have, discard some leaving enough to coat and cook the garlic, onion and pepper flakes. Because I didn’t use all the bacon recipe called for- I only had just enough fat left and didn’t pour out any. Place above 3 ingredients in pan and add bacon/pancetta and cook over med-high heat for 5 mins until the onion, garlic and pancetta etc are a light golden brown. Season w. salt and pepper. You can add a little extra virgin olive oil if necessary to keep these aromatics from burning. Add the tomato sauce, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 10-15 mins.
Cook pasta in water until al dente. Drain pasta and add to simmering sauce. Increase heat to high and toss to coat. Divide among 4 bowls and top w. fresh grated cheese if you please.