Eggplant appears in some form or fashion on almost every antipasti table throughout Italy. Eggplants are members of the nightshade family of plants and are closely related to tomatoes and potatoes. The fruit is botanically classified as a berry and contains numerous small, soft seeds which are edible, but have a bitter taste because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids which is not surprising given its close relation to tobacco.
Native to India, the eggplant made its first appearance in Italy via Sicily and the southern regions. Easy to grow and abundant, eggplant is very versatile when used in cooking. The raw fruit which can be a tad bitter, but becomes tender when cooked and develops a rich, complex flavor. The fruit is capable of absorbing large amounts of fats and sauces, making it a good ingredient for very rich dishes. The combination of flavors in this particular variation is incredible and makes a fabulous addition to an antipasti table or can be served as a delicate Summer salad.
1 medium eggplant, ¼-thick slices, degorged
¾ cup olive oil
1 fresh chili pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
10 fresh mint leaves, torn
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Ensure that the eggplant has been patted dry and brush lightly with olive oil. Add the eggplant slices to the skillet in batches and cook over high heat until golden brown on both sides. Remove to a paper towel and let drain until cool.
Combine the chili peppers, garlic, capers and mint in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Layer eggplant slices on a serving platter and drizzle with a tablespoon of mint dressing and continue making layers until all the ingredients are used.
Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the top and let the eggplant marinate in a cool place for at least six hours.