Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Anti-Matter Platter

Antipasto di Melanzane, Olive & Canditi in Agrodolce alla Menta
Sweet & Sour Eggplant Appetizer with Candied Orange Peel, Olives and Mint

A full, traditional meal in Italy will begin with an "anti-pasto" of some kind, an appetizer to enjoy before the primo piatto of pasta arrives- and it is something that we all know and love. Grilled vegetables, seafood salads, if you are familiar with Sicilian food maybe caponata (which I adore!) and which is probably my favorite eggplant dish of all...

But this evening I decided to use half of the HUGE eggplant I had in the fridge and try something a little different. I love the combination of eggplant and mint- that's the Sicilian classic- I also love pickled or sweet & sour eggplant, which we also enjoy in The Old Country... So I decided to try a variation on both themes and came up with the idea of pairing the eggplant with 2 other Sicilian favorite- olives and candied fruit! Crazy? Maybe! I would have thought you had noticed that by now though...

So this was very simple to make. I first peeled the eggplant using a potato peeler, cut it in half and then cut the halves in turn, into nice thick slices. I popped these into a hot frying pan with just a little olive oil and let them sit for 2-3 minutes, without moving them at all. I was brave and I tried to maintain my self control and just let it fry and brown without pushing it around and messing things up! Hard for me to do- as it is for most of us I suppose!

Whilst it was sizzling away, I finely chopped some parsley and mint, a generous pinch of each, cut a shallot into thin slices, finely chopped a clove of garlic and diced up 4-5 black and green olives. But that was already enough multi-tasking for 3 minutes... it was time to get back to the eggplant!

By now the eggplant was gently golden on one side and had soaked up of course that small amount of oil, so I added a little more and flipped it over, now adding the other olives and shallot as well as some salt and pepper to season and stirring occasionally. In the meantime, I put a tablespoon of candied orange peel into a cup and poured enough boiling water over it to cover it. I let this sit for a few minutes to give it time to soften and to infuse the hot water with its sweet and tangy flavor.

Back to the frying pan, where things were beginning to brown nicely, it was time to add a little moisture, so I turned up the heat and in went the candied orange which had now swollen up slightly in size and absorbed most of the water. With a loud hiss, the pan was deglazed and all of the good flavors that had caramelized onto the base came up and became infused into the eggplant. Because the pan was nice and hot, the small amount of water soon evaporated away and the eggplant continued to brown nicely, now with the added sweetness of the orange- which I then counter-pointed with the juice of half a lemon... and another hiss!

At this point I added the mint and parsley, stirred everything carefully together and turned off the heat. I let it sit and cool off, then enjoyed it with some rustic bread and would recommend you enjoy it with a nice glass of wine. Or two. Just don't overdo it if you still have your primo, secondo, contorni and dolce to come! As for me- I was fine, because this was all I had;-)

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