There needs to be a reason to grow something in a small garden. More to the point, there needs to be a compelling reason to take up space that could otherwise be allocated to a known and proven plant. Every year I set aside a little space to try something new – a new pepper variety, a different tomato, a herb I can’t readily purchase. This year, a new-for-us plant is eggplant.
While the eggplants we have harvested have been used in a number of very tasty recipes, there is one recipe in particular that prompted me to plant eggplant, and steal some of that valuable space. That one dish is one I grew up with and I could not replicate until recently, with the use of the Aga stove versus using a stove-top burner. That recipe is Margherita’s Cabonatina.
I briefly mentioned Margherita when I wrote about Francis’s Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. Margherita and Francis were husband and wife and were like my adoptive Italian grandparents. Everyone needs an Italian grandmother so you can taste and feast upon no end of treats. One of those treats was cabonatina, an eggplant and tomato dish. I tried to make this for years with little success. While I had the basic recipe, it was not complete. My guess is this is often the case with grandmothers’ recipes, especially those she has made for decades. The recipe she started with had long since been replaced by feel, and memory, and smell, and the look.
Last December a friend gave us a few eggplants she grew and we decided to try cabonatina again, this time up by the garden where we have an Aga stove. For those not familiar with Aga’s, they are a stove like no other. They are always on. You do not adjust the temperature of a burner or oven for a particular dish. Our Aga has two ovens, one runs about 425 degrees and the other about 210 degrees. The upper oven is great for roasting the eggplant and the lower oven is great at slow cooking the entire dish. It holds heat and moisture. Recipes just work better with an Aga.
If you are not fortunate enough to have access to an Aga and it is not winter so the wood cook stove is not fired up, try this in an oven. Although I did not use a lid to slow cook everything, you might have to partially cover the assembled ingredients so it doesn’t dry out too quickly.
- 2 1/2 – 3 pounds eggplant (I used Orient Express, a tender, mild variety), 1/2 – 3/4 inch dice
- 3 stalks celery, 1/4 – 1/2 inch dice
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 15oz can tomato sauce
- 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
Directions (in a 2 oven Aga)
Spread eggplant in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, with no oil or salt. Roast in upper oven (about 425 degrees) for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until cooked and soft.
In a heavy dutch oven, cook celery, onion and garlic with the 2 tablespoons oil, in the upper oven until cooked, but not caramelized (about 40 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Add capers and saute on low burner (about medium – medium high) for 5 minutes.
Add can of tomato sauce, and cook on low burner for about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add red wine vinegar, cooked eggplant, sugar, and salt. Bring to boil, stirring frequently.
When at a boil, transfer to lower oven and cook about 1 1/2 hours until desired consistency, stirring occasionally, uncovered. If using a regular oven, you might need to partially cover and stir more frequently.
Let cool and store in refrigerator. I think it tastes best at room temperature.