Canning home-grown tomatoes has taken a backseat in the past couple of years to freezing.
Starting when we have too many to consume fresh, or give away, my mother-in-law starts to freeze tomatoes whole. It’s a convenient alternative to canning because very little prep or time is required. Firmer paste and Roma tomato varieties are ideal because they release less water, and their skins fall off, when thawed for soups, stews and sauces.
But sauce also is lovely to pull from the freezer as the clock ticks down to dinnertime. A quart-sized, resealable, plastic bag of sauce thaws in warm water in nearly no time. Boiled down even further, tomato essence can be captured, and frozen, as paste. We even play it safe and freeze our dried tomatoes, the subject of this blog’s previous post.
Add a dozen or so jars of pesto, several bags of smoked and roasted chilies and a few packages of corn kernels cut fresh from the cob, and we’ve extended the garden’s bounty well into the cooler months. There’s one item, however, that I consider the culmination of our gardening efforts. It also freezes extremely well for an impromptu appetizer on fresh-baked bread when we’re craving the fruits of warmer weather.
Caponata is a relish that accents eggplant, tomatoes and onion with capers and olives, all held in thrall by a bit of vinegar. I posted a stream-of-consciousness explanation of the process back in 2009. And as I mentioned then, this is a forgiving dish, reliant more on proper proportions than a precise recipe.
I recently ran across this version and likely will adopt its inclusion of celery, which we also have in the garden. I probably won’t sacrifice some of our tomato sauce to this formula but rather would peel and chop up a juicy beefsteak that will melt into sauce within minutes.
2 pounds small, firm eggplant cut into 3/4-inch cubes
Fine sea salt, as needed
Vegetable oil, for frying
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch curls
1 cup tomato sauce
1 1/4 cups meaty green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and patted dry
3 tablespoons sugar
4 to 6 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
Toss the eggplant cubes with some of the salt. Heap into a colander set over a bowl. Set a plate on top and weight it down with something heavy. Let drain for 1 hour. Pat dry.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add one-third of eggplant; do not crowd. Fry, stirring now and then, until cubes are browned (adjusting heat so they don’t scorch), for about 4 minutes. Drain on paper or kitchen towels. Season to taste with the pepper. Repeat, adding oil as needed, frying eggplant and seasoning with pepper in 2 more batches.
Wipe any remaining vegetable oil out of skillet. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Tumble in the onion and cook, stirring often, until golden-brown, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery; cook until just beginning to soften, for about 5 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce; simmer for 5 minutes. Add the olives, capers, sugar and 4 tablespoons vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow flavors to mingle and sauce to thicken.
Add fried eggplant and the parsley; stir to coat. Taste and add more salt, sugar or vinegar if you like. Cook just until eggplant is heated through. Remove pan from heat. Let cool completely.
Serve on crostini, as a side to roast chicken, grilled lamb or sausages. Or top with an egg for a simple meal. Leftover caponata keeps for at least 1 week, refrigerated.
Makes about 6 cups.
Adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Preserving Italy” by Domenica Marchetti.