The eggplants have been ripening almost faster than I can use them, and so far we’ve eaten plenty of stuffed eggplant, ratatouille and eggplant parmigiana. Now it’s time for melanzane sott’olio, one of the best accompaniments to a crusty loaf of bread you’ll ever try.
It’s also one of those treasures you can put away for a few months and really appreciate when the vegetable garden is a distant memory.
Add some of this to a sandwich of salami and provolone and you’ll be wishing you had grown a few more eggplants.
Here’s a step-by-step how-to guide to making it:
Start by peeling, then slicing eggplants thinly (about 1/8 inch or so). A mandoline makes quick work of this, but you could slice by hand if you don’t have one. Some of my friends slice theirs in strips, but I prefer the rounds. It looks like a lot, but it reduces greatly in size. For this batch, I used two medium size eggplants and got enough to fill one large jar (in photo) and one small one.
Lay the slices on a sheet of paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Let it rest for an hour or so, then press out excess water with more paper towels.
Bring some white vinegar to a boil (I used a mixture of half water and half vinegar). Add a couple of garlic cloves, if desired, then drop a handful of the slices into the vinegar. Boil them for a couple of minutes and they’ll start to turn translucent.
Using clean jars, start by pouring in a layer of really good extra virgin olive oil. Place some of the slices in the jar, sprinkling with some oregano, sliced garlic and hot red pepper flakes, if desired. Keep pressing more eggplant slices into the olive oil, and add more olive oil and other ingredients as needed. Make sure all the slices are covered with oil, then screw the lid on top.
I don’t process the jars in a hot water bath, but I do store these in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature like my Italian friends and relatives do. They all think I’m nuts since they’ve been making this for generations and no one’s ever gotten sick or died from botulism. I think the boiling in the vinegar takes care of that. Still, I prefer to be super-cautious and put it in the refrigerator after a week or so of “ageing” on the counter.
It really needs a couple of months of marinating to develop the best flavor, but I’m lucky if it lasts that long before all being consumed.
By the way, for this recipe, I used extra-virgin olive oil from Casale Sonnino, a villa and agriturismo in the hills near Rome owned by my good friend Clo. Sadly, Clo died in May after a long struggle with cancer, but her son George and daughter Claire are now managing the business. This is top-notch quality olive oil, made only from olives that are grown on their property, then pressed and bottled locally under George’s supervision. To order some, email Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 516-767-7188.