I recently joined a CSA here in Toronto and am so pleased it’s a little embarrassing. I practically skip on my way to pick up my share, it’s like that. CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture, and there are programs like this available in almost any region these days. While each one has different guidelines and fees, they generally offer a weekly supply of local and organic produce for a good price and can often be delivered to your door. For those of us living in urban areas where gardening is a challenge, it’s a fabulous resource to access fresh and seasonal produce. One of the reasons I encourage a program like this is that it will get you to try vegetables that may be foreign to you. It was a CSA in New York that introduced me to kohlrabi, and I’ve been thankful ever since.
Last week’s bounty brought me everything from pea shoots to leeks and some beautiful purple eggplant. With the weather just starting to turn the corner up here, I felt like something healthy, refreshing, but still soul-warming. This is Canada, after all.
This traditional Sicilian eggplant stew has a beautiful sweet-and-sour thing happening and can be served as an appetizer with grilled bread, alongside roasted meats or fish, or with sliced cured meats and cheeses for a delicious lunch. You can also eat this with a spoon behind an open refrigerator door, as I have often been known to do.
This traditional caponata is not so traditional in my use of maple syrup. I know, don’t tell my mother’s side of the family… they would surely disapprove. But I love maple syrup as a sweetener for its deep flavor and luxurious texture and think it is great here. If you’d prefer, you can be more conventional and use a tablespoon of sugar. No problem there.
This is a recipe that gets better with age so make a big batch, keep it in the fridge, and enjoy it all week. If you’re in the area, check Fresh City Farms. If you’re anywhere else, which most of you are, simply google CSA for your area and there is sure to a program for you. Random thought of the day: What did we do before Google? I mean, seriously.
Yield: About 4 cups
2 medium eggplants, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
4 Tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups canned whole tomatoes and juice, tomatoes crushed by hand
½ cup green olives, pitted and sliced in half
3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon anchovy paste, or 2 salt-packed anchovies rinsed, filleted and chopped
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons pure maple syrup
¼ cup basil, rough chopped, for serving
Season the eggplant cubes with salt and put into a colander to drain for 15 minutes.
In a heavy pot over medium heat, warm 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil. Add enough eggplant cubes to cover the bottom of the pan and sauté until golden. Remove and continue sautéing the eggplant in batches, adding more oil as needed.
Once the eggplant is cooked, add a bit more oil along with the diced onion. Cook, stirring as needed, until soft and translucent, 7-9 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes and juice and cook for another 7 minutes. Stir in the eggplant, then add the olives, capers, anchovy, red wine vinegar, and maple syrup. Cook for a final 10 minutes, then taste and add more salt, vinegar, or maple syrup to your taste.
If serving that day, bring caponata to room temperature and serve topped with the basil. Caponata is even better the next day, so I encourage you to refrigerate it and hold off… IF you can practice restraint.
**My Two Cents: I use anchovy paste here as I always have a tube of it in the fridge. It adds a salty, briney punch to everything from salad dressings to fresh herb sauces.
** If you prefer kalamata olives, feel free to swap them in for the green.
** Fresh parsley can be substituted for the basil, and while it will steer this away from its Sicilian roots a bit, it will do the trick to brighten it up.