Eggplant Caponata is a Sicilian staple. It’s sweet and sour and can be served on bread as an appetizer or antipasti. This version borrows traditional ingredients and techniques from both Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali, yet veers from the expected with the addition of sweet Medjool dates. —Sippity Sup (Greg Henry)
dates (about 10 to 12 large Medjool dates)
1 1/2 pounds
eggplant (unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes)
salt and pepper (as needed)
olive oil (divided)
yellow onion (peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks)
cloves garlic (peeled and thinly sliced)
crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
Cut the dates in half lengthwise and remove the pits if necessary. Chop into ½-inch chunks. Set aside.
Place the eggplant cubes in a bowl, sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper; toss to coat.
Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a 12-inch or larger saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the eggplant in as close to single layer as possible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t quite fit in one layer, the eggplant will good down quickly. Cook, without stirring, for about 3 minutes or until the eggplant begins to brown on the bottom. Once it does use a spatula to turn the cubes onto uncooked sides and cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Turn the eggplant again and drizzle another ¼ cup of oil over the eggplant. Continue to cook, turning only when necessary to promote even browning. You may need to add a touch more oil if the pan begins to look dry, use your judgment. Keep cooking and turning until the eggplant is very brown all over. Don't be afraid to let the eggplant get very dark.
Use a slotted spatula to move the eggplant to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and reduce heat on the saute pan to medium. Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring often until onion is translucent but not yet beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped dates, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, thyme, and cocoa powder; stir to combine.
Lower the heat to medium-low. Return the eggplant to the pan and add half of the toasted pine nuts. Stir gently to combine the ingredients, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid is evaporated. Let the caponata cool completely in the pan.
Once cool, transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining pine nuts and orange zest. Serve with toasted bread slices (if using).