There are few things more satisfying than growing your own eggplant. First, there are so many different varieties to choose from, of all different shapes, sizes, and colors.
In early summer, there’s the pleasure of seeing the first flowers on the plants, delicate, purple, promising blooms. And after that, little shiny bulges soon emerge. Watching them grow week by week is a great thrill (at least it’s my kind thrill) especially when you get to ponder for weeks and weeks what you will make with them once they’re ready to harvest.
One of my yearly eggplant ‘must-make’ is pickled eggplant in olive oil (melanzane sott’olio). I make several jars to freeze, and several to gobble up right away! This is a traditional Italian recipe and there are countless ways to make it. I learned how to make it many years ago when I spent a summer working on farms throughout Italy. One of my best friends’ mom also makes a killer version and whenever I’m at his house, I have to poke my nose in his fridge to see if I can find a jar to dip into.
In Italy, each family has their own method that’s been passed down through generations. The herbs used can vary from parsley to basil to mint to oregano (I usually use a mix of parsley and basil). Some people add celery, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, capers or olives. The great thing about this recipe is that you can make pretty much any variation and it’s going to be delicious. Like so many old recipes, there are a million different ways to make this one. Don’t get too caught up in the details and feel free to adjust my version to suit your tastes. In the past, I’ve made this using large chunks of eggplant instead of long thin slices, I’ve left the skins on, taken the skins off, I’ve tried many of the different methods for pickling the eggplant including soaking it in pure vinegar overnight instead of cooking it in a blend of vinegar and water. No matter which method I’ve tried, it has always yielded exquisite results. It’s a recipe that you can’t really mess up, and the variations are a matter of personal taste and family tradition.
I like to use thin or smaller-sized eggplants (the long thin Asian varieties work well) because they have fewer seeds and are less bitter. I use apple cider vinegar because that’s what is locally available to me, but feel free to use white vinegar instead.
Be sure to store your pickled eggplant in the fridge and use it within a week or freeze it. (Due to the risk of botulism, storing oil and vegetables at room temperature is not recommended). Pickled eggplant is especially delicious in sandwiches or on toasted bread. Try it as a pizza topping or sliced into a pasta salad. It will add a burst flavor to any dish you add it to.
Pickled Eggplant in Olive Oil
- 4 to 5 medium-small eggplants (about 2 pounds in total)
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 3 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley (you can use 1 Tbsp dry if you don’t have fresh)
- 2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil (you can use 1 Tbsp dry if you don’t have fresh)
- 1/4 cup chopped sweet or hot red pepper (or 1 tsp hot pepper flakes)
- 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar (white vinegar is fine)
- 2 cups water
- 1 to 2 cups of extra-virgin olive oil
- Peel the eggplants, cut off the ends, and slice lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Cut these slices across, lengthwise again, to obtain long strips the size of skinny fries. Cut them in half if they’re too long.
- Place the slices in a colander with a bowl underneath the catch the liquid. Sprinkle with the salt and mix with your hands, giving your eggplant slices a little massage so they are evenly covered in salt. Allow them to sit for 3 to 4 hours, mixing and squeezing the liquid out with your hands every hour or so. You can also place a weight on top to help get the liquid out (a plate topped with a big bag of flour works well).
- After 3 to 4 hours, rinse the slices well with tap water and drain. Squeeze as much liquid out of the eggplant slices as you can, using your hands. Place the squeezed eggplant aside.
- Bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Place the eggplant slices in the boiling mixture and boil for about 2 1/2 minutes. Do not leave in the boiling water longer than 3 minutes or the eggplant will be mushy. It should still have some bite to it. After about 2 1/2 minutes, remove the eggplant from the liquid and drain. Once they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands again (you can also leave the slices to dry for a few minutes on a clean towel, wrapping them in the towel to press some of the liquid out). They don’t have to be fully dry but they shouldn’t be dripping wet.
- Stuff the eggplant into clean jars, alternating in layers with the chopped parsley and basil, chopped red pepper, and minced garlic. Press down so that everything is well packed. Pour olive oil into the jar until all the ingredients are covered. Press down with a spoon to remove any air bubbles in the jar. Add extra olive if needed, leaving about 3/4 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims and close the jars. Keep in the fridge for up to 1 week, or freeze.
- Serve on fresh toasted bread or add to any sandwiches. Pickled eggplant is great in pasta salads.
Tips/TechniquesNote: Pickled eggplant in oil should not be stored at room temperature due to the risk of botulism when garlic and vegetables are added to oil. Storing in the fridge for up to one week or freezing is recommended.
Yield: 1-2 pints
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.