Chickpea caponata with eggplant and peppers
This recipe is a study in contrasts, which having just returned from a rather raucous weekend in Las Vegas and trying to get back to a nice, mellow norm, is something I can relate to. It’s the combination of sweet vs. savory (raisins and sweet red peppers vs. capers and salt), and soft vs. crunchy (sauteed eggplant and chickpeas vs. raw celery and pinenuts) that makes it a special dish. Topped off with a generous amount of white balsamic vinegar, it definitely packs a Mike Tyson-sized punch. FYI, there are several steps and you’ll need to plan ahead in order to let the eggplant dry out a bit, but it’s worth it in the end when you get that perfect forkful of all of these flavors and textures combined.
I’m gonna keep this short and sweet (not savory), because what happened in Vegas definitely needs to stay in Vegas! Happy 40th Tom!
Chickpea caponata with eggplant and peppers recipe
1 small globe eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 whole red bell peppers
1 – 15 ounce can organic chickpeas or garbanzo beans
2 celery stalks
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn into small pieces
3 tablespoons white balsamic
Extra virgin olive oil
Toss cubed eggplant with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and place in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl deep enough to separate the eggplant from any liquid that may accumulate in the bowl. 1 inch should be sufficient. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, take a look at your largest skillet, if all of the eggplant can fit in there in one layer without being over crowded, proceed as stated next, otherwise, work in two batches using half of the eggplant and half of the oil. (Overcrowding will cause the eggplant to steam and potentially fall apart, and we want to keep it in whole pieces.) In your largest skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or 1 if working in batches) and once it just begins to smoke add the eggplant. Toss the eggplant (or if you’re not comfortable tossing, gently stir as to not break up the eggplant) to make sure it’s well coated with oil and then occasionally toss (or gently stir) it allowing it to brown on all sides but not burn. This will take about 7 minutes. Once cooked, allow the eggplant to cool in a single layer with room around the pieces on something like a rimmed baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 300. Place pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool.
Place golden raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Drain water and add drained capers to the bowl. Set aside.
Wash whole bell peppers, and roast by cooking over an open flame (like a stove burner) and allowing as much of the surface of the skin as possible to blacken. Once fully blackened, place in a bag and steam for 10 minutes. Once steamed, use hands to remove outer skin. You can use water to help remove some of the burnt bits, but be sure to dry the pepper when done. Remove stem, seeds and any thick ridges, and cut into a 1/4″ dice. Set aside.
Drain canned chickpeas and remove outer skins by lightly pinching the chickpea between your fingers to loosen skin. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and just as it begins to smoke, add the chickpeas and coat with the olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Stir (or toss) frequently just until the chickpeas begin to turn a deeper yellow and show some golden brown bits. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Using a mandolin (or sharp knife if you’ve got mad skills) slice the clean, raw celery into 1/8″ slices making 1/2 cup. Reserve any celery leaves for garnish. Set aside.
Using your hands, tear basil leaves into small pieces. Set aside.
In a large bowl add eggplant, raisins, capers, bell peppers, chickpeas, celery and basil. Toss with 3 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar and kosher salt to taste. It should be highly seasoned with a sweet sharpness from the vinegar and a pronounced savory edge from the salt. Let set for 5 minutes, then toss again, garnish with the toasted pine nuts, celery leaves and serve.