Sunday, August 31, 2014

Adventures in Canning: What to can...

is as important as what not to can.

Some items are harder to safely can than others.  My Hansel eggplants have started to spit out bunches of delightful little critters and so I decided to make Caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish chock full of sweet and savory goodness.

Hansel eggplants grow in clusters.  You can harvest them starting when they are only an inch or two long.  This is my first year growing them and I doubt whether I will ever go back to traditional eggplants.  These eggplants have no bitterness, almost no seeds, and the you don't even have to peel them. 

The longest one I harvested was about 9 inches and the smallest was about an inch.  Hansel's are very sweet and can be thrown on the grill as is.

After doing careful research, I decided the freezer was a better place to preserve the Caponata.  Since it is essentially a low acid combination of foods, the processing time could be very hard to calculate and I was worried that an hour or more of pressure canning would turn the mixture to mush. 

I tweaked a combination of recipes to get just the taste I wanted using eggplant, tomatoes, celery, onion, garlic, green peppers, green olives, capers, golden raisins, and a few tablespoons of grated unsweetened chocolate (see links at bottom or post for recipes.)  The one item I didn't use was pine nuts (pignoli) since you must obtain a bank loan to acquire the little beasts.  I'll add toasted slivered almonds to the mixture before serving and, truth be told, it's just as good as pine nuts.  Or, if you're allergic to nuts, leave them out all together.  It's not the end of the world.

I roasted the sliced up eggplant rather than frying.  Eggplants are like little sponges and when you fry them they soak up untold masses of olive oil.  It's not the additional olive oil that drives that decision - it's the extra cost of using so much expensive oil.  A simple toss with oil and Kosher salt if sufficient for roasting.

Caponata is most often served as an antipasto on crusty little pieces of toast (crostini.)  However, the leftovers that didn't get put in the freezer will be heaped on toast this morning and served with our fried eggs and smoked hot Italian sausage.

I put the caponata in 1/2 pint freezer safe jars and ended up with 10 jars to use this winter.

 This is not our caponata on toast.  I was too busy eating to take a picture, but if I had, it would look just like this picture except we heaped way more caponata on our toast.

 You'll see variations in the following recipes.  Don't get all OCD about making this.  Just concentrate on the basics and mix and match.  This is what makes you a cook...

For instance, Anne Burrel uses a bulb of fennel in her caponata.  It never would have occurred to me to use fennel, although I'm sure it would be good.  Maybe next time.

Anne Burrel recipe 

Mario Batali recipe

Ina Garten recipe

 Next to can?  Beef stew.  I'm waiting for a good sale on roasts.

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