Eggplant is such an underrated vegetable. It’s incredibly versatile and there are so many ways in which you could make it shine in a dish. One of my absolute favourite Eggplant dishes is a wonderfully sweet, sour, smoky flavoured Italian preparation called Caponata. This is my version of it – Roasted Eggplant Caponata with Brown Butter Pasta!
My husband is a carnivore, of sorts. When we got married, there was only one vegetarian dish that he liked eating, his creamy mushroom spaghetti, which is one of his very limited specialties! And that doesn’t really surprise me because I’ve had it too and it’s pretty awesome!
I, on the other hand, love vegetarian meals, so long as they are flavourful and have variety. When I was younger, I went through this vegetarian phase which I loved. I think even now, I could be convinced to become a pescatarian (nope, can’t and won’t give up fresh fish and sea food. Not going to happen. Even though I’m slightly allergic to sea food!), if I didn’t love to cook and try new recipes as much as I do.
One vegetable that I’ve always liked to eat is eggplant. Regardless of whether you call it Eggplant, Aubergine or Brinjal, it’s one that you can learn to appreciate, even if you don’t now. And there are so many varieties of it. I’ve eaten them all. And love ’em all!
My Aunt in Australia made Caponata for dinner one day several years ago and I’ve loved it since. I learned to make it myself and adjusted the recipe over the years to my liking, which means it’s smoky, a little spicy, deliciously tangy and has a fruity sweetness. The result is this Roasted Eggplant Caponata with Brown Butter Pasta recipe that you see here.
Another of my favourite ways to eat this vegetable is in a curry. I will be posting that recipe on here soon too. My mum makes the BEST eggplant curry and I’ve never had it that good anywhere else. It’s the dish I request every time I visit my parents.
I roast the eggplant rather than frying it, so that it’s healthier, which is something I picked up from my aunt. And as much as I would have loved to own one of those fancy smoke guns to add the smoky flavour, I actually use an even cooler, easier and more delicious (in my opinion of course) way to achieve that smoky flavour. I use natural Cocoa Powder!
In Mexican cuisine, chocolate is used in Mole sauce, which is a brilliantly smoky sauce that has a great balance of heat. The chocolate there balances the heat from the peppers, and doesn’t actually add a chocolate flavour as such. And that’s exactly what happens in my caponata sauce. I added cocoa powder which has an inherent smoky bitterness to it. Plus it gives that deliciously dark colour to the caponata as well.
Caponata is also fantastic to be served with toasted crostini. Just place some on a piece of toast and drizzle some olive oil on top of that and it’s incredibly delicious. I, however, prefer eating it with Pasta, more specifically my homemade pasta tossed in some brown butter!
Brown butter pasta is the perfect vehicle for caponata in my opinion. It completely elevates the caponata dish and lends very complementary flavours to it. It’s sweet, sour, salty, and has a bit of bitterness and heat too. That’s basically all the flavours we can taste! 🙂 And I made homemade, hand-cut Fettuccine pasta for this dish.
Roasted Eggplant Caponata with Brown Butter Pasta
Roasted Eggplant Caponata
- 1 lb eggplant cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 tsp salt
- 2-3 tbsp oil to coat the eggplant
- 1 ½ ribs of celery chopped
- 4.2 oz/ 120 g yellow onions chopped
- 2 cups of petite cut canned tomato
- 5 tbsp brown sugar
- 1-2 tbsp crushed chilli optional
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper optional
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3.5 oz / 100g Kalamata olives halved
- ½ cup raisins golden raisins are fine too
- 1 heaped tbsp natural cocoa powder 15ml tbsp
- salt to taste
- 1 tbsp oil
- 5-7 basil leaves
To Serve (Brown Butter Pasta)
- 1 batch of Homemade pasta made with 8 oz of dry ingredients
- OR 4 servings of pasta you can use gluten free pasta if you prefer
- 5-6 tbsp unsalted butter skip this for vegan option
- Salt to taste
Roasted Eggplant Caponata
- Sprinkle salt over the cubed eggplant and place them in a colander (and then place that over another bowl) for about 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line a baking tray with some parchment paper. Place the eggplants on paper towel to dry off the excess moisture, and toss them in the oil to coat.
- Spread the oil coated eggplant on the baking sheet and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. This may take longer depending on how much moisture there is in the eggplant. Toss the eggplants on the baking tray every 10 minutes to ensure even browning. Once done, remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
- At this stage you can use the eggplant immediately, OR you can store it in the freezer to use on another day.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the onions and celery, and cook, stirring often until the onions and celery become translucent.
- Add 1 cup of the tomato, cayenne pepper and crushed chilli and the sugar, and cook this mix until the tomato has reduced, and there is very little liquid (about 5 minutes).
- Dissolve the cocoa powder in the vinegar (to make sure there won’t be lumps of cocoa powder in the caponata).
- Add the cocoa, vinegar mix, raisins, and the other cup of tomato and stir to combine. Let it simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Add the eggplant and stir to combine and coat the eggplant well. Hand rip the basil leaves and stir them through just before serving.
- Serve on a plate of brown butter pasta, and top with some extra basil.
Brown Butter Pasta
- Cook pasta according to the recipe here, or if using store bought pasta, according to the package instructions. Strain the water and transfer the pasta back into the pot. Leave aside.
- Add the butter to a pan, and on medium heat, let the butter melt while stirring occasionally. Keep heating the butter, until you start to see the mix boiling, and then some foam forming (at this stage the water has boiled off)
- Lower the heat (if you are worried about burning the butter too much) and keep stirring and heat the butter further, until you start to see the butter/milk solids, changing colour to golden brown, and you get an amazing nutty, toasty smell. Remove from the heat and let the butter sit in the pan for a few minutes, and the butter will continue to cook during this time, but keep an eye out to not let it burn.
- Pour the brown butter into the pasta and toss to coat evenly. Add salt to taste (optional)
The first time Mr. K had this meal, he stopped eating just long enough to declare that it “tastes amazing” and that “we should make this again.” And when I told him it was completely vegetarian he couldn’t believe it! He completely devoured it! That right there was a big fat seal of approval. 🙂
I make this quite often now. It’s a great way to sneak some vegetables into your kids or carnivorous friends/family. Adding the chocolate really transforms this dish in a really subtle way! (does that make sense?) You can’t taste any obvious chocolate flavour but you will taste the difference. Try it and see for yourself! This dish is packed with flavour! You got the slight saltiness of olives, sweet and juicy raisins, the herby freshness of basil, sourness of vinegar and tomatoes, caramelized eggplants, and a hint of bitterness and smoky flavour that comes from cocoa powder. All sitting on a bed of brown butter pasta. THIS is why I love what I do! 🙂
You know how you could make this even better? With cheese!
More on that next week, so make sure you come back to find out! These Caponata and Cheese hand pies are unbelievably delicious and cute!
What’s your favourite vegetarian dish? If you like eating vegetarian meals, you should definitely check out these vegetarian potstickers from Ramson and Brambles. They looks fantastic!
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