I grew up eating a lot of meat and potatoes. Both sides of my family have strong Irish heritage, and spilling over from generations who cooked to feed many on less, those meat and potato dishes didn’t come with much by way of seasoning. My dad refused to eat rice without first spewing a gazillion complaints. Spicy food meant a dab of medium salsa and worldly cuisine meant eating tacos with corn tortillas (instead of flour) from the taco wagon, a feat that did not happen until high school.
During my sophomore year in college, the first year alone and off a meal plan, armed with loads of curiosity and roommates willing to branch out, I learned much of cooking, seasoning, and by trial and error, how to eat healthily. I learned to eat and cherish vegetable meals without meat. I discovered new cuisines.
It was then that I stumbled on a recipe in the food section of the Oregonian for Sicilian Caponata. My love for eggplants, kalamata olives, and Italian cuisine was firmly cemented.
Over the years, this slightly unusual take on caponata has become my favorite pasta dish. It’s the one I talk about when people ask me what to do with eggplant. It’s the one I think about in February when tomatoes and eggplants are all out of season, but the rich combination of heat-loving vegetables, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and cocoa, capers and olives all stewed into a lovely sauce make me long for summer again. This is the dish I have made over and over this summer, eating it day after day, skipping a week, and then making it all over again. And it is perfect in this month when the garden (and markets) are teeming with eggplants and tomatoes in their end-of-summer glory.
My parents have come a long way since those adolescent days, and though I haven’t made this dish for them, I know they too, would eat it right up.Caponata Pasta, adapted from the Oregonian, serves 4
olive oil 1/2 a large onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 Tbs. raisins 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 Tbs. cocoa powder 1 tsp. fresh minced thyme 3 to 4 very ripe tomatoes 1/4 cup pitted and sliced kalamata olives 2 Tbs. capers, rinsed and drained 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar salt and pepper to taste 8 oz. tubular pasta (I used Ancient Harvest Gluten-Free rotelle)
- In a large pan, saute onion, garlic, raisins, and pepper flakes for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft.
- Stir in eggplant, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder and cook 5 to 10 minutes more over medium-high heat. You may have to add a drizzle of water to soften the mixture up.
- Add the thyme, olives, capers, tomatoes, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more.
- While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta, taking off the heat and draining just before it is done.
- Toss pasta with sauce until thoroughly combined and the pasta is al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve!