In Italy, late afternoon is the time for apertivo, a kind of happy hour with cocktails and snacks. Apertivo cocktails can be as simple as a beer or a glass of wine, or a traditional aperitif, such as Campari or Aperol Spritz. As for the snacks, they can be almost like a small meal. When we were in Fano, Italy recently, our apertivo came with olives, roasted peppers, tomatoes and mozzerella cheese, nuts, focaccia and pickled eggplant – a huge spread! I've had plenty of marinated or roasted eggplant before, but this was a tangy, raw eggplant pickle. When I came home, I knew that I had to try to make pickled eggplant myself.
I have a few cookbooks by Marcella Hazan, the transplanted Italian cook who has been called the Italian Julia Child. She was a huge proponent of documenting the recipes and ways of Italian home cooks. As soon as I came back from my trip, I pulled her cookbooks back out again and looked to find out how to make all those fantastic Italian foods. As it happens, Marcella Hazan passed away just a couple of weeks later, so I was even more motivated to re-read her books and gather inspiration.
After a little digging, I found a recipe for Melanzane Conservate a Crudo, or Pickled Raw Eggplant, from Marcella Hazan's book Marcella's Italian Kitchen. I was in business!
Pickled Eggplant in Oil
(adapted from Marcella Hazan’s book Marcella’s Italian Kitchen)
1 1/2 pounds of eggplant
3 or 4 small, fresh hot peppers
3 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Equipment you'll need: a pint canning jar, cheesecloth, colander
First, peel, wash and slice your eggplant into thin 3-inch long pieces. You will also want to chop your peppers, basil and garlic.
It is traditional to salt and extract as much moisture out of the eggplant pieces as possible. So, in a colander, place your eggplant and salt liberally. Toss with the salt until evenly coated. Place a large bowl over the eggplant in the colander to cover. Add cans or bags of beans into the bowl to weight it down. This should help press the moisture out of the eggplant. Let stand and drain in a sink for 24 hours or at least overnight.
On Day Two, the eggplant should look like this…
You will still need to extract the last bits of liquid out of the eggplant, so place the pieces into some cheesecloth and squeeze it until no more liquid comes out. The dry eggplant looks like this…
Chop the garlic, peppers and basil.
Toss all of your ingredients into your jar. Mix thoroughly and top off with olive oil to cover. Let it sit overnight in the fridge and it will be ready to serve the next day! Should keep for months in the fridge. Serve this as an appetizer. It also looks beautiful on a party tray. Buon appetito!