In this particular chapter of my life, my primary job is to take care of 2 young-ish kids, and run the life of our busy family. A lot of people manage to do this while also holding down a full time job, or even having a career, but for this particular chapter, Peter and I have agreed that the lifestyle afforded by this old-school division of labor along frighteningly antiquated gender lines is working for all four of us. We’re able to absorb more of the hip-checks life sends our way by having a clear understanding about who is responsible for what (Sick kid on the first day back after a long weekend? I own it. Surprise on April 15th? That’s on Peter.) I overthink this stay-at-home-mom bit; it took me years before I stopped feeling guilty. I’m pretty much there, now…appreciating the hard work I do to keep our family’s motor running even if society in generally doesn’t really.
Plus, I get to have lunch with my friends a lot.
Not so much; even with kids in school, it is hard to make calendars line up. But once or twice a month, I get to take a little restorative time with similarly situated friends and just be. Its nice.
Last week, I was the host of such a lunch. And since we are still in these celebratory few weeks at the beginning of the school year, I decided it would be fun to crack out the china and silver and try to put all of my mother’s/grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s rules for entertaining into action. Oh….and since I don’t have the staff that they did (snort!) I went with one of my spiritual mother’s rule: Ina Garten always says to just make one thing when you entertain, and buy the rest.
Ladies lunch, indeed.
Makes about 1 quart
Caponata is a wonderful thing to have on hand. I served it almost as a relish, with cheese and charcuterie and bread, but I also love it spooned an a piece of grilled fish or tossed with pasta for a quick weeknight meal. This recipe makes plenty, assuming you can keep yourself from spooning directly from the serving bowl into your mouth. It has a wonderfully addictive quality, which is nice in an eggplant dish. Also. I’ve reduced the olive oil to what I believe is the minimum level…my “starting point” recipe called for 1 1/2 cups for a similar quantity of eggplant. You can cut back more if you must, but you will sacrifice some of the silky texture of the eggplant.
2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
6 ribs celery, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
Toss the eggplant with the salt and set aside in a colander to drain for 30 minutes or up to a few hours. After the eggplant drains, rinse it well and squeeze dry, wringing out the water with your hands.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add half of the eggplant, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Add two more tablespoons oil to the pan and repeat with remaining eggplant.
In a separate saute pan (or, after you finish frying the eggplant, if you hate doing dishes) heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the celery and continue to cook until onions are deep golden and celery is tender. Add the olives, raisins, sugar, vinegar, and tomatoes and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Stir in the eggplant and simmer together for about 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Stir in parsley. Serve immediately if you must, or cool and then chill for up to a week, allowing everything to meld and pickle slightly, for an optimal caponata moment.