This summer, several of us on Islesboro who produce food managed to gather ourselves under the leadership of our neighbor, Betty Boucher, into a Friday morning farmers market.
Eggs, vegetables, pork, lamb, gorgeous pies, coffeecakes, flowers, cinnamon buns, preserves, pickles, handmade napkins, birdhouses and shopping bags made from animal and bird feed bags, arrayed by seven or eight vendors, attracted buyers.
Last week I took a pile of eggplants I had grown in my hoop house (also inhabited by tomatoes and peppers and cantaloupe) to offer, along with dilly beans and currant jelly. One of my customers picked up all of the eggplants I had left to buy, so I asked her what she was going to make.
“Caponata,” she announced happily.
I’d heard of caponata but couldn’t quite place it, so when I went home, I looked up a recipe and thought it was worth trying out. It is mostly eggplant, cooked with onion, capers, green olives, tomato sauce, vinegar and sugar.
After years of only occasional eggplant-growing success, I absolutely relish having enough at last to use generously, thanks to the extra warmth my new hoop house now provides.
I am growing an Asian-style eggplant called Pingtung. It is a long, tubular and dense eggplant, less watery than the big purple numbers, and needs less salting and draining than the standard eggplant.
In a kind of Mediterranean mood, I suppose, I made tapenade, at the same time thinking that perhaps a supper of salad and marinated cold vegetables with tasty spreads on bread would be a treat. It was a treat, sort of an indoor picnic. Caponata is a richly flavored, chunky item that you can also eat with a fork. Friend Toby really fell for it piled on artisanal bread. I left some in his fridge to snack on.
Makes a quart of caponata
1½ pounds of eggplant
¼ cup olive oil
½ pound of onion
1½ cups tomato sauce
¼ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
½ cup pitted green or black olives
4 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
Anchovy paste to taste, optional
Cut the eggplant into half-inch cubes, put into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for an hour or so, rinse and drain them, patting them with a towel. Put half of the olive oil into a big frying or saute pan and cook the eggplant over medium heat until it is softened. Add the onions and the rest of the oil and cook, stirring often until the onions are soft. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, water, olives, capers, sugar, cocoa and anchovy paste, if desired. Cook until it has thickened somewhat. Taste and adjust seasonings with pepper and salt, if needed.
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