This season it has been my pleasure to mentor several friends in the art of preserving food by canning. So far, we’ve successfully canned 3 bushels of green beans, 100 pounds of new potatoes, and 4 bushels of cucumbers made into
pickles of various types. The next 2 weeks will be very busy with canning both peaches and tomatoes.
While pickling cucumbers (kosher dills, if I remember correctly) one of my friends mentioned her grandmother used to pickle eggplant. Her description was of whole slices of large eggplant layered in a quart jar and kept in the refrigerator. She could not describe the taste, exactly, just as delicious, and she was sure to highlight the fact the eggplant did not turn soggy, but remained firm and chewy.
My curiosity was peaked! I could not keep myself from utilizing the internet to seek out ‘pickled eggplant’. I soon discovered it to be an Italian condiment – for the most part – particularly favored in crostini or as a complement to light pasta dishes. Of course it is Italian! South Louisiana owes much of its food heritage and fusions of flavor to the long history of Italian immigrants and their progeny. Half the people I know are of Italian descent! (Maybe I am exaggerating just a little – very little.)
The First Way
I have never met an Italian food I did not like, so I became determined to give pickled eggplant a go. Of course, the internet can give anyone information/sensory overload, so I had to trim down the choices significantly. First, I chose to look for a very traditional Italian version. I settled upon Marie’s Melanzane Sott’Olio (Pickled Eggplant). With that name, how could it be anything but authentic?
Of course, I can never do anything the exact way I am told, so I had to try to be a bit different. Instead of peeling the eggplant, I left the skin on. I decided I could do this because I was using Fairy Tale mini eggplant and not the larger Italian or Japanese variety. The mini eggplant have a more tender skin, or so I reasoned anyway….
Cookbook Archaeology Description: When I was about ten, I went to a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. Truthfully, there might not have been exactly seven fishes, but there were many courses and there were many old Italians; the dinner was held my grandmother’s best friend Marie. Marie lived in the same Florida development as my grandparents, so I always saw her when I went to visit them; I don’t think I realized until I was about seven that we weren’t related. She is a fabulous cook, and her Christmas Eve banquet was one of my formative food experiences; I remember sitting through antipasti, pastas, fish, cheeses, desserts, thinking “I want to be able to do this one day.” One of the antipasti served at the start of this dinner was a traditional Sicilian pickled eggplant – melanzane sott’olio. I was not a huge fan, but my parents went nuts over it and my mom got the recipe. It languished in her recipe box for years, but since I’ve got a more developed palate than I did at ten, and I’ve been getting into pickles, I decided to try it out…
These pickles are delicious. Incredibly pungent, and really flavorful. The batch above was actually my second; I tried this once with regular eggplants, and found they just had too many seeds. It stands to reason: Italian eggplants are much smaller and slimmer than the variety we usually get here in America. You can often purchase them here, but they’re pretty expensive. My advice: use Chinese (sometimes called Japanese) eggplants. If you can’t find them, use the regular kind, but try to find some modest-sized ones.
- 4 small Chinese or Italian eggplants (about 1 1/4 lb.) peeled and cut in thin strips
- 1 quart Cider vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1-2 crushed bay leaves
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (optional)
- red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 whole bay leaf and additional olive oil
- Peel eggplant
- Slice (julienne) into small “matchstick” strips
- Salt eggplant strips, pressing down with a weighted plate on top until liquid is basically removed
- Squeeze out as much moisture as possible
- Soak sliced eggplant in cider vinegar (or white vinegar) for 3-4 hours. Eggplant should just be covered.
- Strain eggplant and squeeze out all of the vinegar carefully.
- Toss with olive oil, garlic, crushed bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Place in jar, add olive oil to cover, and place a whole bay leaf on top for flavor. Cover and keep in the fridge; try to wait about three days before digging in, to let the flavors meld.
Appearance: My first try at this came out brownish and not so pleasant looking as the photo above from the Cookbook Archaeology site. By leaving the skin on, I had hoped to get some of the lovely purple color of the Fairy Tale eggplant to show and add visual interest. Instead, the skin turned brown. The original photo is much more appetizing-looking than mine. Kept in the refrigerator, the olive oil tends to slightly solidify, making the appearance rather crusty-looking when the pickles are cold. Leaving the jar sit out on the kitchen counter for an hour rectifies this issue.
Texture: Again, the stiff texture is probably my own fault for not peeling the eggplant as instructed. I wished for something much softer than the resulting product I achieved. I also believe that missing the salting step might have affected the texture to some degree. I missed this step because it was included in the text and photos on the original site but was not included in the “recipe” directions at the bottom of the page. I have edited the above recipe to reflect ALL the needed steps.
Taste: Tart! This is a very heavy vinegar taste, but the olive oil gives it a smoothness which helps counter-act the pucker in your mouth. I thought it could do with more salt, but then, skipping the salting step (see above) may have contributed to this. I would have liked a bit more spice to it, but that is a personal preference. If you do not especially like spicy food, leave the recipe as is.
How I used it: As a topping for crostini and an accompaniment to pizza. It reminded me of having pickled peperoncino with a slice of pizza except the pickled eggplant adds a wonderful, smooth garlicky flavor as well as the bite of vinegar. I look forward to discovering whether this pickled eggplant can be used as a substitute for olive salad on a muffaletta.
The final verdict is that I should learn to follow directions better. If I was doing this again, I most definitely would follow the instructions about PEELING the eggplant. I would also ensure I did not skip the salting step. Other improvements would also be to cut the strips even thinner than I did, more “matchstick” size. I did mine in about 1/4″ size. I would like a bit more “kick” to it and would probably experiment with adding more red pepper flakes and perhaps a dash or two of Tabasco.
I WILL give this another try in future. It was good enough that I wish to perfect the process.
The Second Way
Food In Jars Description: Two years ago, when I was still writing a weekly pickling column for Serious Eats, I made a little batch of pickled eggplant to feature in that space. The recipe was just slightly adapted from one in Linda Ziedrich’s book The Joy of Pickling. I did not have particularly high hopes for that particular pickle, but I had eggplant to use and an approaching deadline, so I made it.
In the end, I was astonished by how delicious the pickled eggplant was, especially when removed from the jar, drizzled with olive oil and eaten on toast. I’ve made it several times and have even included a version of the recipe in my upcoming cookbook (of course, Linda is prominently credited as the inspiration).
- 1 quart fairytale eggplant
- 2 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 lemon juice of
- 3 cups red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup basil leaves torn
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 tsp.coarsely ground black pepper
- You start by trimming away the stem end off a quart of fairy tale eggplant and slicing each fingerling into four or six wedges (use your judgement; more strips for larger eggplants, fewer for smaller ones). Place them in a bowl and toss them with two tablespoons kosher salt and the juice of one lemon (the salt draws out the liquid in the eggplant and the lemon prevents them strips from browning).
- Once the eggplant slivers have sat for an hour or two, you dump them into a colander and give them a quick rinse. Then, using your hands, gently press out as much liquid as you can without entirely smashing the eggplant.
- While you are rinsing and draining, pour three cups of red wine vinegar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Put all the eggplant into the boiling vinegar. Once the vinegar returns to a boil, let the eggplant cook for just 2 minutes.
- When the cooking time is up, remove the eggplant from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and place it into a bowl (keep the vinegar hot). Add 1/4 cup torn basil leaves, 1 minced garlic clove (I like to use a garlic press for applications like this one), and 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and stir to combine. Funnel the dressed eggplant into two prepared pint jars (half pints are fine as well). Top with the blanching vinegar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Using a chopstick, remove air bubbles and add more vinegar if the headspace levels have dropped.
- Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel (this removes any particulars that could interfere with a good seal). Apply heated lids and rings. Lower the jars into a small boiling water bath canner and process for 10 minutes (starting your timer when the pot returns to a boil). When the time is up, carefully remove jars from the canning pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the rings, check seals and (if seals are good), wash jars to remove any remnants of spilled brine.
- These pickles need a little curing time for optimum deliciousness. Give them at least a week (if not more).
Appearance: My version was just as colorful as the original, but I chose to use diagonal slices of eggplant rather than long strips. I envisioned lovely rounds of purple eggplant mixed into the jar with the basil leaves; however, my slices softened to such a degree I ended up with a very soft, mushy product after the cooking. The result was that my yield was only one pint jar instead of two pints, and although the color was very nice the product just looked like eggplant mash in the jar.
Texture: Smashed! The texture turned out for me like mostly mashed eggplant. I believe there were a couple factors involved in this: 1) I sliced my eggplant at about 1/4″ thickness rather than cutting into strips as the author of Food In Jars recommended and 2) I might have over cooked the eggplant in the vinegar, meaning more than 2 minutes. Overall, the texture was not unappetizing, and the mixture spreads out nicely on a crostini. The overly-soft nature did reduce my yield to only one pint.
Taste: Tart! This version also has a very heavy vinegar taste, but I found it more pleasant because of the red wine vinegar versus cider vinegar. The basil and garlic combination is superb! I will add MORE fresh basil next time. I think my portion was a bit stingy due to the fact I had just cut a bunch of basil a few days previously to making this recipe and was being picky about butchering my plants. (NOTE to SELF: plant more basil!) Also, be generous with the black pepper. It really adds something!
How I used it: As a topping for crostini. Paired with a pungent cheese or a smoked mozzarella and the bread is a nice combination. I served it with a brie and sun-dried tomato dip, and the combination was very good. I look forward to trying it as a garnish for deviled eggs.
Finally, when I try this recipe again (and I will), I will be very generous with my basil and the black pepper. I might even add some peppercorns to each jar. I still like the idea of having slices rather than strips of eggplant. To counteract the the over-softening of the slices I would probably cut them slightly thicker than 1/4″ and cook them in the vinegar for about half the time called for in the recipe. They get heated (cooked) a second time during the water-bath process to seal the jars anyway.
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The internet is a wonderful place where we can share information, ideas, and experiences. The above post is Bayou Mama’s experimentation with making pickled eggplant. Any changes made to the recipes or observations concerning HER OWN experiences and experimentation are in no way a criticism of the original recipes and/or their authors. We encourage you to visit the original websites (as listed in the above post) for all pertinent information.