We’ll set the scene: You’re lounging on your beach chair on Sicily’s Spiaggia dei Conigli, the ocean breeze gently rustling the pages of your book. You reach for an ice-cold Messina beer from your cooler, the bottle dripping with melting ice. A server approaches you with a tray of small appetizers, telling you happy hour has just begun. You reach for an enticing crisp topped with eggplant salad, goat cheese, and a basil chiffonade. The server smiles and tells you good choice, and that the nibble you chose contains a secret ingredient: Chocolate.
Chef Sarah got the inspiration for this delicious appetizer during a trip to Italy, where she ate her way through some of the country’s most beautiful areas, taking notes and gathering ideas the whole way. Always one to put a creative spin on traditional classics, Chef Sarah took a new approach to Sicily’s famous caponata, a sweet-and-sour eggplant salad seasoned with vinegar, capers, raisins and pine nuts. She combined caponata’s traditional acidic flavors with the depth of dark chocolate. The results are a fun blend of savory and sweet, and perfect for serving at a happy hour or cocktail party.
Dark Chocolate Eggplant Caponata & Goat Cheese Bruschetta
1 c. avocado oil
1 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2” cubes
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tbs. tomato paste mixed with 2 Tbs. water
1/2 c. canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. PL&C Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 Tbs. toasted pinenuts
2 oz. PL&C unsweetened chocolate chips
2 Tbs. capers, rinsed & drained
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4 c. PL&C Chocolate Olive Oil
1/2 c. Haystack Mountain chèvre, crumbled
1 box 34 Degrees Natural Crackers
1/2 c. basil, finely shredded
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat the avocado oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Divide the eggplant into thirds and fry separately in batches until browned 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to paper towels, drain off excess oil and put into a medium bowl to set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add the onions and celery, and season with salt. Stir often and cook until the onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and water and stir fry until caramelized and almost evaporated, 2-3 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in vinegar, raisins, capers, brown sugar, and chocolate, stirring occasionally until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant and add the pine nuts, 1/2 the basil, and olive oil, tossing to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Spoon a bite-sized amount onto each cracker and garnish with goat cheese and remaining basil.