Not to worry. This isn’t a story about canning, but how to make a delicious hors d’oeuvre out of eggplant by packing it away for a few weeks under olive oil with garlic, basil and red pepper.
This particular recipe is one of the all-time most popular on my personal blog, The Slow Cook. I think that’s because gardeners harvest lots of eggplant in early fall–the farmers markets are loaded with them as well–yet outside of baba ganouj and eggplant parmesan, there just aren’t that many recipes for this star-crossed vegetable in the popular lexicon. The particular method we deployed in my food appreciation classes this week doesn’t even involve any cooking.
All you need are a couple of eggplants (you can use the big, dark purple kind, or the long, skinny, Asian variety), a few other simple ingredients and some jars with lids and you are ready to rock.
The idea is to first salt strips of eggplant to draw the water out, squeeze them dry, then season them in red wine vinegar. The eggplant strips are then packed in jars with crushed garlic, fresh basil leaves and red pepper flakes, all covered with olive oil to keep the air and potential spoiling microbes out. Once the eggplant have had a chance to sit in their jars for a few weeks–or even months–they embrace the delicious flavors of their companion ingredients, take on a darker hue, and serve as a delicious hors d’oeuvre. We place them on an antipasto tray and munch on them like olives.
Over the years, I have encountered some controversy over whether the jars full of eggplant should be refrigerated while they age or whether they can be kept in the pantry. Since cases of botulism have been reported in raw garlic, I prefer to refrigerate my preserved eggplant out of an abundance of caution.
To start, cut the ends off a large eggplant, then cut the eggplant in half or in thirds to produce sections that are about 2 1/2 inches long. Stand each section on end and use a serrated bread knife to trim away the skin. Then slice the sections crosswise into pieces about 1/8-inch thick, or a little thicker. Lay the pieces flat and cut them into strips about 1-inch wide.
When you’ve finished cutting all of the eggplant into strips, place them in a large colander set inside a big bowl and salt the eggplant aggressively, tossing as you go. You want to get just enough salt on each strip of eggplant that it will leach out its liquid. Cover the colander with plastic and let sit overnight, or about 12 hours.
After a while you will see a large quantity of dark liquid at the bottom of your bowl. But wait! There’s even more to be squeezed out of the eggplant. You can do this with your hands: scoop up a handful of eggplant strips and squeeze into the bowl. Better still, load handfuls of eggplant into a tea towel, fold the towel closed and twist until the liquid streams out.
Once you’ve squeezed the liquid out of the eggplant, you can clean out your bowl and put the eggplant in it. Now douse it thoroughly with red wine vinegar–enough so that every strip has absorbed its share and there is perhaps just a little extra sloshing around at the bottom of the bowl. Let the eggplant sit for an hour.
Now you are ready to pack your eggplant. You can do this in individual pint-size canning jars, or any other jar you have handy. We used a really big jar with a rubber gasket and clamped lid. In fact, it was big enough to fit the eggplant from all five of our classes. That’s a lot of eggplant to eat later. But I have a plan…
After placing a handful of marinated eggplant in the jar, add a clove of crushed garlic, a large basil leaf or two and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Press the eggplant and other ingredients down with a wooden spoon or similar implement. Our jar was big enough that we were able to use a potato masher to do the packing. Continue alternating handsful of eggplant with garlic, basil and red pepper until all of the eggplant is packed away. Now pour extra-virgin olive oil over the eggplant until it is completely submerged to a depth of about 1/4 inch. You might want to tap the jars a little on your work surface to make sure the oil dislodges any air pockets.
Now simply store your jars away for at least several weeks, and preferably a couple months or more. You want the flavors to develop. I’ve kept eggplant prepared this way in the refrigerator for more than a year and it just kept getting better.
But of course we can’t have a cooking class without something to eat at the end. So this week we also made a special treat–bruschetta with cherry tomatoes in balsamic vinegar.
Simply toast thick slices of a country-style bread under the broiler. Meanwhile, cut a pint of cherry tomatoes into small pieces and toss in a bowl with red onion cut into small dice, basil leaves torn into small pieces, a clove of garlic finely chopped, a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the toasted bread and serve.
You’ve never seen kids love tomatoes more.