Why do we read and write memoir and fill in the branches of our family tree? By studying geneology we expect to gain insight into our brains, our behavior and choices and personality. Is there a history of madness we can seek to avoid, or a tendency for greatness to strive after? Most of us want to know who they were, in order to honor their lives and hope that they inform ours. Especially in a time and place where we are often disconnected from family, traditions, and rituals. We use what information we have to form a kind of scaffold.
I think a lot about my grandmother, who was for years a housewife, a homemaker, a mother. I always knew her as the cook and keeper of the kitchen, a matriarch standing in front of a frying pan filled with olive oil, onions, garlic, and peppers. In my 1950’s style Burbank apartment, cooking and cleaning in kitchen without all of the amenities I feel connected to generations past. How difficult it might have been to be stuck alone in the tiny house all day with two young daughters and no car, to not have any emotional and creative outlet. The thing is, I do. I have many more options open. But this ability to time travel lends insight and perspective. I wonder if knowledge of my life would have made hers any better.
Caponata is a delicious dish for summer. It involves ripe form the garden vegetables, notably eggplant, with pantry and refrigerator staples, like canned tomatoes and olives. It balances sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. It can be heaped on bread or pasta. It is a perfect party appetizer or makes a quick weekday supper. It is earthy. Every cook has her own variation on this Italian grandmother’s garden relish, it’s easy to adjust the amounts based on what you have on hand. Keep tasting so that no one flavor dominates. And definitely t it chill overnight. These things are always better once they’ve had some time to marinate.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1–2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 cup diced canned tomato
- Chop off top and bottom of eggplant. Peel, leaving a few thin strips. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Spread on half a clean dish towel, sprinkle with salt and fold over towel. Place a baking sheet and 2 heavy cans on top of the eggplant and let it sit while preparing other ingredients, at least 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant thoroughly in a colander. Finally, fold eggplant back up in the towel and squeeze out liquid over the sink.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook onions down, 8-10 minutes. Add celery and garlic and sauté, 10 minutes. Remove these vegetables to a plate. Add a little more olive oil to the pan, if necessary. Reduce heat to medium low, add eggplant and cook without stirring, 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up bits from the bottom. Add vinegar. Stir in capers, olives, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and sugar to taste. Return vegetables to the pot. Cover and simmer over low heat, 15-20 minutes.
- Allow the caponata to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, but better overnight. Serve heaped on slices of crusty or toasted Italian or French bread. Can be fridge-cold or room temperature.