Late summer eggplants – Melanzane Sott’olio
It’s nearly April, when autumn in Melbourne should well and truly be taking over the season but summer is dragging on and after a long, slow heatwave that felt like a giant hair dryer pointed at the city, a bit of autumn weather would be highly appreciated. I’m beginning to crave a refreshing, crisp morning, for example, when you need a nice hot cup of tea or coffee to warm you up and perhaps a floaty scarf to layer over the summer clothes you’re tired of wearing but have yet to put away. I’m craving warming soups and roasts and anything baked. But summer’s not over yet, tomorrow’s still too hot a day to allow yourself to turn on the oven. And the markets are still full of late summer produce like squishy ripe figs that come apart in your hands and shiny, firm eggplants that look like painted and glazed ceramics.
I know in a few months time, maybe even a few weeks, I’ll be wishing it was hot again and longing for that summer produce. That’s when it’s handy to take advantage of the season’s abundant fruit and vegetables and make fig jam (or perhaps fig honey) or other preserves – so you can still taste summer in those cold, long months of winter.
Preserving is a long-held Italian tradition, from sausages to jams. Sott’oli and sott’aceti are just another way of keeping those excess fresh vegetables for later in the year, “under oil” or “under vinegar” (pickles, in other words). A necessity of many a table, sott’oli and sott’aceti are most often eaten as part of an antipasto (I’m immediately brought back to Salento, the southern most part of Puglia, where an antipasto there is likely to include a smorgasbord of sott’oli, probably made by someone’s nonna), or perhaps as an aperitivo, a tongue-tingling, “stomach-opening” (as they say in Italy) stuzzichino to go with a drink before dinner.
They can even be part of a rustic, simple lunch, accompanied by nice bread (or even used as a sandwich filling) and a glass of wine. These melanzane sott’olio are deliciously soft, slightly vinegary and ever so slightly garlicky.
Eggplants preserved in olive oil
Use baby eggplants or thin, long eggplants.
Slice the eggplants into 1-2 cm thick slices and dust them liberally with salt. Leave them to rest with the salt for about 8 hours, then drain and rinse them under some water.
Fill a pot large enough to fit the eggplant slices with half water (or better, white wine) and half white wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Add the eggplant slices and as soon as the liquid comes back to the boil, turn off the heat and drain the eggplant. Place in sterilised jars with some sliced garlic, chilli, a few fresh bay leaves and fill with olive oil. Seal the jars and keep in a cool, dark place until opened, then store it in the fridge.