This is one of those versatile recipes that can serve more than one purpose — dip, sandwich filling, pasta sauce — and it makes use of all those beautiful eggplants that are in season...
Credit goes to my dad for creating this caponata, which he calls "the eggplant dip," although we've tweaked and fiddled with it over time. It's a traditional, stewy mix of eggplant, pepper, onions, and tomato with some salty olives and a dash of vinegar. At times I even throw in some summer squash that needs to be used.
This isn't a particularly quick dish, but the time involved is mostly hands-off once you finish chopping all of the ingredients. Then it just needs to simmer until everything is soft and the flavors are well-mingled.
P.S. You might want to have some napkins handy.
Tester's Notes This oldie-but-goodie recipe from Elizabeth is just marvelous! It's easy and hands-off to make, and it just gets better in the fridge. Like she says, you can eat it on sandwiches, over pasta, or over rice.
A couple notes: I left the eggplant skin on and didn't mind it a bit. Also, if you want soft, falling-apart (as opposed to meaty) eggplant, cut the chunks a little smaller and simmer for at least 40 minutes.
Eggplant Caponata Sandwiches
makes 5 cups of caponata, enough for about 10 sandwiches
1/3 cup olive oil 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into small cubes, about 4 cups total 1/2 green bell pepper, diced 1 small onion, diced 4 ounces white mushrooms, chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano Salt and freshly ground black pepper Baguette or ciabatta bread, to serve Fresh mozzarella, about 2 thick slices per sandwich, to serve Fresh basil leaves, optional, to serve
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or wide, deep sauté pan and add eggplant, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft.
Add the olives, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, and oregano. Season again with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Stir a few times during cooking, and add a tablespoon or two of water (or olive brine) if the mixture is too thick and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Allow caponata to cool. Spoon on bread, top with mozzarella and basil, and serve. Or, serve warm as a dip.