I love melanzane alle noci e mandorle, the sweet and sour Calabrian eggplants that are crunchy with nuts and fragrant with basil and mint. They are great as a side dish with any cold meat, with grilled lamb chops or chicken legs. Traditionally, though, they are an antipasto (appetizer) served on the sideboard.
They also make a wonderful bruschetta if spread on toasted bread with shavings of parmesan, thin slices of mozzarella, manouri or sprinkled with crumbled feta. I often add grilled peppers –either home made, or store-bought– with the eggplants, and in the winter diced roasted squash is another interesting companion. Adjust the spicing of the sauce accordingly.
Adapted from my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.
Makes 6-8 appetizer servings
2-3 eggplants (about 2 pounds total), cut into 1-inch cubes
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic or more to taste, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
8-10 basil leaves
5-6 mint leaves
1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or to taste
1-3 good pinches chopped dried peperoncini, or either Aleppo or Maras pepper or Red Pepper Flakes to taste
3 tablespoons sultanas
Generously salt the eggplants, toss and let drain in a colander for 1 hour, tossing once. Rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Preheat the broiler. Layer a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the eggplant cubes on it in a single layer. Drizzle with oil, toss and set the baking sheet about 5 inches from the heat source. Broil, tossing once, until golden, about 10-15 minutes. (You may need to do this in batches).
Alternatively you can stir-fry the eggplant cubes in olive oil, then drain on paper towels.
Transfer the eggplants to a large bowl and add the garlic, salt, almonds and walnuts. Tear with your fingers the basil and mint leaves to pieces, or cut with scissors and add to the eggplants, tossing briefly.
In a saucepan warm the vinegar with the honey, stirring just to mix. Remove from the heat, add the sultanas and peperoncini. Pour over the eggplants while still hot, toss and taste to adjust the seasoning with more salt or pepper. Let cool, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight, and preferably for 1 day.
Let come to room temperature before serving.