Eggplant & Kale Caponata with Garlic Toasts and Green Olives
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Italian food is a favorite in my house; probably, in some respects, because of my husband whose family hails from Italy. He has made me a believer in the briny flavors, bold bursts of acidity and simplicity of their "feed a crowd" foods. I have learned (the hard way!) that truly great Italian food means you need to put in the time (even if that's just babysitting a pot). Rushing this food will not have you wowed - patience is key!
This recipe is the epitome of "take your time," but it's also make ahead and can be lovely as a lunch, snack, dinner or appetizer (really; I mean, not that I ate it for all of those things....(okay, I did!). The recipe stores well and tastes better a day or two after you made it as the flavors continue to meld. Be sure to serve it with some crunchy whole grain toasts to keep you satisfied and give it the needed textural diversion.
Sustainability Spotlight: Often considered a vegetable, technically eggplants are a fruit since they develop from flowering plants, and have seeds; they are also a part of the nightshade family (important in a minute). The plant is high in antioxidants (which may reduce the risk of heart disease), high in fiber (which may promote blood sugar control), and eggplant may have cancer-fighting benefits because it is in the nightshade family. See, I told you, that little part is important! Nightshade plants (including eggplant) contain solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (SRGs) which are a type of compound that have been shown in some studies that could lead to the death of cancer cells and / or may also aid in reducing the recurrence of certain types of cancer (Healthline.com).
For all the health benefits, eggplants have a "sustainability" problem - over 83% of the world's eggplant are produced in China and India (which means in some locales, the emissions are high for transit alone), and both countries are monocropping (meaning, there is no variety which makes it difficult to sustain and breed over time) while also using chemical fertilizer / liberal application of pesticides (https://foodprint.org/real-food/eggplants/). Global standards for environmental sustainability are various, and the U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia are amongst those with the highest standards of regulation and "concern" for pollution. The lowest? You guessed it - the emerging economies of India and China (amongst others). The good news for your footprint (assuming, of course, you live in the U.S. like I do), eggplant is grown in southern states (particularly Florida) and practices "better" sustainability techniques (as noted above, the U.S. has higher standards for pollution control). So, shop organic / local as much as you can for eggplant to remain sustainable (seasonality: summer through fall) while reaping the benefits of this fruit (I mean "vegetable").
3 tbsp golden raisins
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large eggplant (sweated & cubed; skin on)
1/2 yellow (Spanish) onion (diced)
4-5 garlic cloves (minced)
1 large bell pepper (any color - chopped)
1/2 cup vegetable stock or broth (whichever you have open)
2 large Roma tomatoes (chopped)
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes (quartered)
3-4 large lacinato kale leaves (destemmed & chopped)
2 tbsp capers (drained)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1 handful of basil (chopped)
salt & pepper to taste (as you go - see below)
Whole grain bread (preferably bakery style) - sliced
Olive Oil (generous amount)
1-2 large garlic cloves (cut in half along the length - for rubbing on the toasts)
Green Olives (marinaded from your local deli if you can) - for serving (optional!)
Pre-step: Sweat Eggplant (30 minutes) - place cubed eggplant into a large colander; generously salt and stir with your hands to coat all pieces. Let rest over the sink for 30 minutes; rinse thoroughly, then drain and pat (i.e. - squeeze gently) dry with clean kitchen towel.
In a small (one of those prep (mise en place) bowls if you have one, add raisins and vinegar; stir - set aside to soak.
In a large cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once it shimmers, add eggplant and sprinkle with a little salt & pepper. Stir occasionally for ~8-10 minutes or until eggplant starts to soften and brown.
Add onion, garlic and bell pepper; saute stirring occasionally for another 5-7 minutes or until the onion starts to sweat and become golden.
Pour in vegetable broth (or stock) to deglaze the pan (scrape up the brown bits); Now, add tomatoes through lemon plus reserved soaked raisins. Season again with a dash of salt & pepper and stir well.
Let the caponata mixture simmer (stirring occasionally) for ~7-9 minutes (or until it thickens).
Stir in basil and remove from heat. Taste and add a little more salt & pepper (to your liking).
Option: you can go ahead and serve warm (it's delicious) OR you can chill overnight and serve the next day (it's even better!). Choose (warm or cold), then proceed to Step #8.
Generously drizzle olive oil over both sides of your whole grain bread and lay flat on a sheet pan. Slide sheet pan into oven on the highest rack setting and turn your oven on to Broil (High). Let toast for 2-4 minutes until golden and then flip and toast for another 2-4 minutes (again, until golden).
Remove pan from oven and immediately rub the open side of your split garlic clove over your bread. It will "melt" into the bread (seriously, it's pretty cool). Repeat with all slices.
Serve caponata spooned over garlic toasts and with green olives (if using).
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I have (over and over again this week!) Please drop me a note or feel free to comment; I'd love to hear from you.
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie