Eggplant Caponata

Whenever I cook, I often reach for my cookbooks and scan them for ideas. I look at several versions of the same recipe and then approach it in my way. It’s very rare that I will follow someone else’s recipe exactly.

Last weekend, I was at a friend’s house on the Jersey shore and decided to replicate Mario Batali’s Caponata.


  • 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup basic tomato sauce, recipe follows
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 sprigs mint, chopped
  • 1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven



In a large 12 to 14-inch sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, currants and chili flakes and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until softened

Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomato sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, garnish with mint and chili flakes. Serve the caponata spooned on crostini or in middle of table with crostini on side to allow guests to help themselves.

Basic tomato sauce:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Yield: 4 cups

Bruschetta & Crostino

       defines Crostino as:

  1. A piece of thin crisp toast.
  2. An hors d’oeuvre made with a crostino and any of various toppings.

Yes, that’s right, and the word Crostino comes from the Italian crosta meaning crust, referring to the bread it is made from.

Isn’t that called a Brooshetta?

Bruschetta comes from the Italian word bruscare, which means to burn, or roast over coals, referring to the way the bread is toasted. The correct pronunciation of this word is BRU-SKETTA, and yes, it is very much like a crostino, though bruschetta toasts are always rubbed with a clove of garlic while still warm, and usually topped with the classic fresh tomato, basil and olive oil mixture.

Today, crostino and bruschetta are almost interchangeable; the shape or size of the crust and the endless choice of toppings is really up to you. If you really insist on giving them a name…just call them delicious!


Dip, spread and all-around great snack; with only a whisper of garlic, this hummus is smooth, creamy and flavorful and it serves 6 – 8 people.

1 can chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small garlic clove
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water

  1. Place everything except water and olive oil in a food processor and begin to process.; add water and olive oil as needed to make a smooth purée.
  2. Taste and add more garlic, cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed. Serve drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkle with extra cumin.
  3. Serve with pita chips, pita bread, crackers or raw veggies.


Note:  The Italian chef in me will sometimes add, mascarpone or ricotta cheese to the hummus. A few tablespoons of cream will also work some magic. Give it a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Marinated Eggplant – Melanzane Sott’ Olio

I picked all the eggplant from the garden and decided to make a famous Calabrese snack – Marinated Eggplant.

This recipe demonstrates how versatile eggplant really is, a perfect addition to antipasto or try a fork full on a sandwich!


6 medium eggplants
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 fresh basil leaves
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoon crushed red chile peppers
Coarse salt
Extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Trim the stems from the eggplants and peel them. Cut the eggplants in half crosswise, then into slices no thicker than ¼ inch. Cut each slice into ½ inch wide strips.
  2. Place the strips in a bowl, sprinkle with coarse salt and toss.
  3. Place the strips in a perforated pan or colander and allow them to drain at room temperature for no less than 4 hours. (My mother would cover the strips with a clean apron and then place a weight on top so the eggplant would drain thoroughly).
  4. Grab a handful of eggplant at a time and squeeze between the palms of your hands to remove excess moisture.
  5. Place the eggplant strips in a bowl and add the vinegar. Toss thoroughly and let rest for one hour.
  6. Select a Mason jar large enough to fit the eggplant strips.
  7. Layer the eggplant in the jar, evenly distributing the basil leaves, garlic slices, and red chile pepper. Press down on the eggplant and pour enough olive oil to cover. Close and refrigerate. The eggplant will absorb some of the oil with time so add more oil as needed. Let the eggplant marinate for several days before eating. Refrigerated they will keep for months.


Recipe taken from Ricette di Maria – Maria’s Recipes by Giovanni Cucullo

Fresh Fig Jam

Fig trees produce so much fruit. I can go out to my back yard every day and fill a bucket with ripe figs. Just when I thought the tree had given me all it could, I go back again the next day and there they are…more beautiful, delicious, ripe figs!


I love fresh figs, but I can’t eat them by the bucket, so whatever I don’t give away to friends and neighbors I turn into Homemade Fig Jam.


Fig Jam Recipe:

4 c. fresh figs
3 c. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Thin sliced lemon rind (about 1/4 lemon)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon


  1. Wash the figs thoroughly, then stem and chop them.
  2. Place the figs in a saucepan and cover with the sugar. Add 1 cup of water and slowly bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium.
  3. Stir often to prevent sticking. Add lemon juice and spices and cook 5 minutes longer. This year, I added a bit of Campari to the jam giving it a wonderful bitter-orange accent.
  4. For long-term storage, pour into hot sterilized jars to 1/2 inch from top. Seal. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

* You don’t have to sterilize the jars if you are refrigerating the jam.