Eggplants always seem like the little lost vegetables of summer. People dream about biting into a homegrown tomato, but I never hear anyone longingly wish for an eggplant.
I feel like if I started putting up a sign that said “aubergines” instead of “eggplant” at the farmers market, we might sell more of them. It’s more romantic, right?
So, my goal today is to convince you to love eggplant.
Have you seen all the specialty varieties of eggplant seeds that you can find these days? The beautiful shades of dark purple to white and pale green are so enchanting. I especially like this Listada de Gandia variety from Baker Creek Seeds:
(…true, I would probably buy a dead squirrel if it were advertised as having “lovely purple and white stripes.”)
Eggplants are so simple to grow, too. Just make sure to start your seeds really early, with the tomatoes, and then give them good soil and nice spot in full sun.
And now, a recipe:
This is hands down, the best pasta sauce that I know how to make. My mom made a slightly different version for me every year on my birthday when I grew up. My parents had referred to this dish by a different name, a family friend who had given them the original recipe, and it was only when I was older that I realized that my favorite pasta sauce was pasta “puttanesca”…. which translates to “whore’s pasta.” Which is amazing, and makes me think of renaming some of my other favorite dishes with more colorful language.
I’m not sure what the official story is behind the name- I’ve heard that it has to do with how quick and easy the dish is to throw together, since the ladies had to work at night and couldn’t spend forever working on dinner. I’ve also heard that it’s because the smell of the sauce was so wonderful that it would entice the men who smelled it into the woman’s house. Whatever the story, this pasta’s delicious, and a great way to use up eggplant.
(This is the pasta after we already ate some for dinner and it sat in the fridge and then we ate some more after that. I could have plated it nicely and taken a pretty picture, but, you know, I was busy eating it and didn’t).
Even people who hate eggplant will like this sauce, since the eggplant melts into the tomato sauce to make this luscious, silky texture. I like using Paul Robeson tomatoes for this sauce- their bold, spicy flavor goes really nicely with the capers. You can easily make this vegan by omitting the sausage and adding some extra olive oil.
Cook Time: a couple hours
Feeds: a lot. 8? or 2 people with many days of leftovers (which are happily eaten)
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 lb. Italian sausage links, sliced into 1″ sections
- 6 c. diced eggplant, any variety, diced into 1/2″ cubes
- 6 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes,* cored and cut in half
- 2 cans of black olives, drained
- 1 5oz. jar of capers, drained and 1/2 of the brine reserved
- 1/2 c. roughly chopped parsley
- salt & pepper
In a large, wide bottomed pot, heat up the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, and sausage, and saute till the sausage is starting to brown. Turn the heat down a little bit. and add the eggplant and saute until the sausage is browned on the outside and the eggplant is also starting to look slightly browned. Add extra oil if necessary, to prevent sticking.
Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and reserved caper brine, and parsley. Stir everything together. Turn the heat to low and cook for a couple hours. The eggplant will completely fall apart and the sauce will thicken and reduce by about half. You’ll need to stir the tomatoes a bit at first while they release their juices, and then you can walk away and stop paying attention to the sauce for awhile. When the liquid has reduced off and the sauce is almost done, you’ll need to stand next to the pot and stir it to make sure it the tomatoes don’t burn on the bottom of the pot.
Taste the sauce, and then season with some salt and pepper.
Serve over pasta. The leftovers only get better in the fridge.
A note about tomatoes: We mostly grow thin-skinned, juicy heirlooms, so that’s what I usually cook with. I don’t peel them because it takes forever and the skins don’t bother me. If you’re motivated to blanch and peel yours, more power to you.
A note about eggplant: I don’t bother sweating eggplant with salt prior to cooking. It tastes delicious without that step, and I am all about working less and sitting around more. Maybe for something like eggplant parmesan it would matter, but not here, where the eggplant melts into the sauce anyway.
and one last P.P.S: I am a fiend for black olives. If you’re not as excited about them as me, feel free to reduce the amount of them in the recipe.
(coming soon: my favorite recipe for preserving eggplant in jars…. stay tuned)