Monday, August 31, 2009

Rooftop Caponata

This caponata is an essential part of our food supply, especially now when tomatoes, eggplant, and olives are emerging in force on the roof farm.

(Just kidding about the olives, but I couldn't live without them.)

With a tough growing summer here in Chicago--cool and rainy with a few spurts of heat--our plants were mostly confused. The early greens kept on producing happily in their element. The tomatoes got a funk that drove down production to about half of last year.

And the cucurbits--melons, squash, and cukes--are rife with powdery mildew. Check out this photo of the Mystery Greek Squash whose seeds we were delighted to receive from our pal Erik at Homegrown Evolution. Erik says he had two of the best squash he's ever eaten before his succumbed.

It's good for gardeners to share the glory and the gloom.

Top view
(happy little mystery squash)

Bottom view
(making its way upward with alarming speed)

So back to the caponata, for which we used tomatoes of all types (in shorter supply but very sweet this year) and the pingtung and udumalepet eggplant. I'm sold on these smaller varieties. For weeks I've been slicing them in half and laying them into a little oil in a cast iron pan, covering and cooking over medium heat for barely 5 minutes. They soften beautifully, ready to be chopped and added to soba noodles or brown rice.

For the caponata, using smaller eggplants
eliminates the salting, draining, and squeezing the larger varieties require.

Cast your eye back up to the top photo: just dice the eggplant and brown them in a little oil for this recipe. Raisins, olives (we subbed kalamata), capers, and balsamic vinegar come together to create a flavor profile that works on top of crackers with a smear of goat cheese, as a flavoring for your favorite grain, or alongside meats.

Play with the sweet-sour balance if it doesn't seem right to you. But above all, try one of the small eggplants in your SIP next year.


Anonymous said...

When do you pick the udumalapet eggplants? My plant is full of eggplant but some are yellowing, some are still more beige but none have a softness to the touch. Thank you, Lauren

H2 said...

Hi Lauren:
The Seed Savers site says udumalapet are best at about 3 inches and are ripe when yellow. Here's the link:

I'm not sure they're supposed to get soft. One of the remarkable qualities of these smaller eggplant is a nice full flavor at just about any point in the growing process. I've even eaten the purple ones (which the link says aren't yet ripe).

So...go for it. Cut a few try them out. And please let me know how you like the flavor.