Re-imagine seasonal eating with Paul Virant’s creative jams, relishes and preserves in The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012). Clear instructions ensure safe canning practices without inhibiting the artistry of unusual flavor partnerships: summer fruit served with meats and winter produce, or delicate spring vegetables flavored with the robust herbs and spices typical of fall cuisine. The following pickled eggplant recipe is from “Fermenting and Curing: Sauerkraut, Salted Produce, and Cured Meat.”
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We were well into developing recipes for this book when Tony Porreca, our tester, pulled out an experimental jar of salted, paper-thin slices of eggplant packed in olive oil. Undeniably savory with a subtle sour bite, the preserve was instantly addictive. For weeks Tony had been trying to re-create the preserved eggplant he ate while growing up in the Chicago suburbs. Every summer, his extended family came together to preserve the last of summer’s eggplant by packing salted slices into large wooden food presses that expelled the water from the vegetable. Remaking the traditional preserve, which had been passed down through word of mouth only, wasn’t easy. Tony first tried an iron press, which oxidized the eggplant. He then settled on a fruit press designed for crushing grapes into juice. Kosher salt wasn’t salty enough, so he turned to iodized table salt. Since it was still missing the tang he remembered, he reached for a jug of plain white distilled vinegar and poured it over the salted pieces. The process—three days in the press, two days in vinegar, and two weeks smothered in olive oil—rendered the eggplant tender even though it had never been cooked. After several batches, Tony managed to replicate the tangy condiment for Italian cured-meat sandwiches. In doing so, he had preserved a nearly-lost family tradition.
The best time to make this preserve is in the late summer and early fall, when eggplants are cheap and large. Tony prefers mature globe eggplants because their seeds tend to contribute flavor. You will need a wooden fruit press for this recipe (one designed to press soft fruits, like grapes, works well).
Tony’s family made a similar preserve with green tomatoes. The process was nearly the same, but the tomatoes didn’t need to be pressed. Once salted, they could be seasoned with salt, soaked in vinegar for a few hours, and packed in oil.
• 6 medium globe eggplants (68% of total volume)
• 1/2 cup table salt (4.5% of total volume)
• About 4 cups white distilled vinegar (27.5% of total volume)
• 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
• 9 garlic cloves, thinly slices (preferably with a mandoline)
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Peel the eggplant and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Lay the slices out across a couple of baking sheets and season both sides evenly with the salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.
2. Set the press near a sink or area that provides a place for the eggplant liquid to drain. Pack the eggplant into the press in circular, overlapping layers (do not pat dry first). Put the top of the press on top of the eggplant and screw until there is just enough pressure to cause the eggplant to release some of its liquid. For the next 3 days, give the knob a three-quarter turn three times a day. Each time the press is tightened, more liquid will come out of the eggplant. When finished, all of the eggplant slices together will be no higher than a few inches.
3. Remove the top of the press and peel apart the eggplant slices. They will be stuck together and will have taken on a slightly brownish color. Transfer them to a nonreactive container and pour in enough vinegar to cover completely, ensuring that both sides of each slice are coated. Let the eggplant soak for 2 days.Marinating Instructions
1. In a pot of simmering water, scald 3 pint jars for a minute or two to ensure the jars are sterile (you do not need to process the jars once they are filled). Right before filling, put the jars on the counter.
2. Drain the eggplant slices and discard the vinegar. Stack the slices into piles about as big as a hamburger and lightly squeeze with your hands to remove any excess vinegar. (The slices will have soaked up the vinegar like a sponge.)
3. In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the olive oil with the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Coat the eggplant in the oil and seasonings. Stack the eggplant slices into piles of 4 or 5, then slide them into the jars. Between each addition, drizzle more olive oil on top of the slices. Cover the eggplant with 1/2 inch of oil, making sure all the air pockets are removed. Cap the jars and leave at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks before eating. This condiment will keep on the shelf as long as it remains covered in olive oil. Otherwise, it will last in the refrigerator indefinitely.
More Recipes from The Preservation Kitchen:
Reprinted with permission from The Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy, copyright 2012, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Buy this book from our store: The Preservation Kitchen.