Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Sweet, Salty, or Both?
Cookthink has a feature where they interview all different people in the food world. To each chef, food-writer, what-have-you, they ask the same series of questions. As you might expect, althought the questions don't change, the answers vary widely - except for one of the questions. First off the bat is always, "Sweet or Salty?" It seems to me that 90% of the time, the interviewee answers, "Both."
Ask me? Salty. As much as I love sweets, I am really a savory girl at heart. If a piece of chocolate torte were in front of me, I might answer sweet. I would never answer "both". I was the kid who didn't want any of the different food touching on her plate and I am embarrassed to say I am still that way. I don't like to mix flavors. I will finish all of one thing before I start another. So, to me, sweet and salty is way too mixed up. (Except if we are talking about salted caramel and then all bets are off. Who is responsible for this frenzy? I would like to kiss them.)
For that reason, I was surprised that I really like this eggplant spread. It is, by nature, a savory dish. Eggplant, onions, tomatoes, salt. But it also has quite a bit of sweetness from a touch of sugar, balsamic vinegar, and currants. And the eggplant here does what it does best, in my opinion, it kind of disappears. I mean, it's there - you can tell it's eggplant, but it's not like, "I am eggplant, hear me roar." I can't explain why I couldn't keep my tasting spoon out of it - maybe it's that the balance is perfect. For my tastebuds anyway. I have made lots of different caponata type recipes in the past and have always found them lacking something. This is my new favorite.
Sicilian Eggplant Spread with Crostini
Adapted from The Farm to Table Cookbook
I gave this to my clients with the crostini but served it at my house with crackers. Either way it's delicious.
1 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp. pine nuts
3 tbsp. dried currants or raisins
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup tomato sauce
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf rustic French bread, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion, pine nuts, currants, and oregano. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium; add the garlic, eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant begins to brown and bocomes soft around the edges, about 15 minutes. (DN: I felt the onion was in danger of burning after about 8 minutes so I proceeded with the next step at that point.)
3. Add the tomato sauce and vinegar, cover and simmer until the eggplant is very tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside for at least 1 hour to meld flavors.
4. Meanwhile, place the bread slices in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Lightly brush (or drizzle) them with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake just until the bread is crisp and golden brown around the edges, about 15 minutes. Serve with eggplant mixture.