Three weeks ago I headed to Sicily for my fifth study trip of my master program. Leaving behind 60 degree weather, sunshine and tank tops greeted me as I stepped off the plane. As if the weather wasn’t enough, the food sealed the deal and Sicily stole my heart.
This island is rich in culture possessing remnants of the many civilizations that have once called Sicily home. The Greek and Romans settled there over 2000 years ago. The Arabs ruled over the island in the 10th century leaving behind a sea of spices and the love of cous cous. Albanians escaped the Ottoman Empire in 1448 settling in Sicily. Thanks to the Spanish, tomatoes were introduced to the cuisine and English merchants in the 18th century helped spread the love of the sweet marsala wine. This interlacing of residents has developed a rich diversity in the cuisine.
We had the opportunity to meet several producers including red garlic, zibibbo wine, marzipan, salt, stretch curd sheep milk, ricotta, and honey made from the black bee. Each producer shared with us their story, their passion for their home, and their love of Sicilian food. We quickly learned that this love included of course pasta but also an unexpected partner…eggplant.
Eggplant graced our tables in a variety of forms that week. There was one version though that I fell deeply in love with, Carponata. Carponata features fried eggplant in a tomato sauce laced with capers, olives, celery, pine nuts, raisins and vinegar. The fat of the eggplant is cut by the acidity of the sauce but you get these occasional glimpses of sweet from the raisins. The delicate crunch of the pine nuts and the briney capers add surprises in each bite. It has been three weeks but I have finally made it using a recipe that I found at a restaurant in Sicily. All I can say is, I wish I hadn’t waited that long!
3 cups eggplant, cut into ½ inch cubes
1/3 cup of green olives whole
1 T pine nuts
1 T raisins
1 T capers
2 Celery ribs, diced
½ small white onion, diced
1 ½ cups of tomato sauce
1 t chopped basil leaves
½ c white vinegar
1 t sugar
Salt and pepper
Place the cubed eggplants in a colander and over generously with coarse salt. Let the eggplant drain for one hour. Rinse the eggplant, dry and let sit.
Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the eggplant into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Place fried eggplant on paper towel and set aside.
In a sauté pan, sauté onion and celery until onion is translucent. Add pine nuts, raisins, capers, and olives and sauté for a minute. Add the tomato sauce and basil and cook for 10 minutes.
Dissolve the sugar into the ½ cup of vinegar. Add vinegar mixture to tomato mixture and cook until liquid is slightly evaporated.
Gently add the eggplant into the tomato mixture. Turn off heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.