My paternal nonna (grandmother) was the quintessential Italian cook. She was short, a bit on the round side, and everything she cooked in her kitchen was Italian—even after living in a Latin American country for over 30 years. I always thought she missed Italy so much, that the only way she could stay connected to the mother country was by refusing to change her cooking style and adapting new ways. She stayed true to her Italian roots.
And that is how I learned to cook Italian food. The old way. She was known for tons of signature dishes, each ranked by how many and often people in the family would request them.
This eggplant dip was one of my favorites. Even at a young age and with all the grown-up ingredients, I loved this dip. It’s perfect to eat with toasted French bread, atop a steak, or mixed into scramble eggs. The applications are endless. It’s not a complicated recipe. As always in Italian regional cooking, simplicity rules the day. Plus it keeps well in the refrigerator, which gives me an excuse to make a big batch and eat it for days. - Sweetbites —Sweetbites
Test Kitchen Notes
I like that this is a relatively fast dish to make (after the eggplant drains). It's a great topping for bruschetta (on a spread of fresh ricotta!), and i enjoyed it mixed into pasta (again with the ricotta!). In both cases, the addition of some pinenuts (for texture) and golden raisins (a little more sweet to the sour) were nice, along with a little shower of parmesan -- though it's perfectly fine without the additions. I didn't try it on top of steak as the recipe notes suggest, but it sounds like a great idea! It's the kind of dish I like to make a big batch of to have on hand for putting together a quick meal. It's easy, tasty, and versatile. - vvvanessa —The Editors
eggplants (if using the big American variety); 5 or 6 (if using the Indian or Chinese kind)
olive oil, plus more as needed
medium yellow onions
to 3 tomatoes chopped
to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
of drained capers, rinsed and chopped
of pitted olives, chopped
of red wine vinegar (you may use less than this)
Cut eggplant into small cubes (about 1/2 inch) and transfer to a colander. Toss with 2 teaspoons of salt. Let drain 1 hour.
While waiting for the eggplant, prep your other ingredients by chopping the onions, tomatoes, garlic, capers, and olives. Also measure
the vinegar and sugar. Put everything aside.
After an hour, gently squeeze (I use a potato ricer) eggplant to remove excess moisture and pat dry (they need to be very dry). Heat about 1 1/2 cup of the oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until very hot. You can test the oil by adding one of the eggplant cubes—if it rapidly bubbles up, the oil is ready. Fry the eggplant in batches (don’t crowd the pan, you want the eggplant to crisp up) stirring and turning constantly with a slotted spoon, until browned and tender, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towels to drain and cool.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet, then reduce heat to moderate and cook onion, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until golden, then season with salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or so.
Add the eggplants and tomatoes and stir to coat. Then add the olives, capers and cook for about 2-3 minutes more to meld all the flavors together.
Now the tricky part, building the sweet and sour flavor.
I usually start by adding the vinegar and sugar in increments of 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring and cooking for about 1-2 minutes after each addition, tasting as I go along until there's I taste a balance. I’m also adjusting the salt and pepper at the same time, if needed.
Remember taste, taste, and taste some more, as you are cooking along.
Once you find that right sweet and sour punch, simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 15 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and serve.
You can also store it in a jar and chill in the refrigerator. It usually keeps up to a week.