Doused in vinegar and stored in oil, this eggplant dish is meant to keep through the winter but tastes so good it might not last that long!
This fall my go-to cooking method has become pickling. I’ve preserved my way through carrots, pearl onions, mushrooms and hot peppers. Into the pickling liquid these veggies go, then poured into my clean jars, and straight into the water canner. Over the course of the end of the summer and autumn months, my cabinets have become filled with pristine jars of bright vegetables swimming in the liquid, ready to be added to salads, tossed into stir fries and or shredded on top of scrambled eggs.
But this pickled eggplant recipe, melanzane sotto’olio, was the first I tested out, using the first of two eggplants I harvested from my summer garden, and it’s certainly become one of my favorites. It’s a classic Italian recipe I learned while working on a farm in Montelpulciano last summer. After working hard every morning, Nicla, our host, prepared grand spreads of pasta and salads for lunch everyday, but this antipasti was the taste we couldn’t get enough of, and after two weeks, the full jar quickly disappeared (much to Nicla’s dismay!).
Although I meant to test out the recipe when I returned home last August, it wasn’t until I harvested my eggplant this summer that I remembered the taste of this treat- tart, earthy and peppery from the garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s a simple process, keeps for a long time, and makes a wonderful gift, perfect for this time of year. Plus, long after you eat the eggplant, the flavored oil is wonderful in salads and for light cooking. I hope you enjoy, and will think of Italia when you do!
2 medium eggplants
2 cups white vinegar
5 cloves garlic
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp crushed red chili flake
High quality olive oil
2 1-pint canning jars
1. Peel the eggplant. Trim the edges, and slice into very thin strips (or if you prefer into rounds). Layer the strips into a colander, and sprinkle vigorously with salt. Place a weight on top of the strips to weigh them down, and place the colander on a plate (to catch excess water). Let sit for one to two hours, or overnight. This will allow some of the water from the eggplant to be removed.
2. Brush off excess salt from eggplant. In a large sauté pan, combine 2 cups water with the vinegar and bring to a boil. In batches, cook eggplant and garlic for about two minutes. Remove from the mixture and set on a towel lined sheet tray for 30 minutes. Squeeze to remove excess moisture.
3. Mix oil, fresh thyme, and red chili flake. Add the eggplant. Layer the eggplant and the oil in the jars, making sure the thyme and spices are included. When you reach the top, cover completely with oil. Let sit at room temperature overnight and then place in the refrigerator, where it will keep for one month. The oil will harden when cooled, so bring to room temperature to consume and eat within one week.