Sicily’s Eggplant Ceviche for Summer

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in: Cooking

eggplans for ceviche

The end of summer offers the cook a wealth of sparkling fruits and vegetables for culinary transformation. One of my favorite dishes this time of year is a Sicilian preparation called mulinciana a schibecci, or eggplant ceviche.

I don’t make this often because it’s labor intensive, but when I do I make a good amount because it can be eaten as an antipasto, on top of pasta, smeared on a toasted square of bread, or on top of pizza. For me, this dish captures an essential Mediterranean taste, one you will not forget.

If you know caponata, you will recognize this preparation as they are in the same family.

You probably know of ceviche as the famous appetizer of lime-marinated raw fish. I once read that it was introduced to the United States from Peru by restaurateurs.

eggplant ceviche

Eggplant ceviche. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

But ceviche is nothing but a Mediterranean method of preserving raw fish. The Spanish word ceviche and the Sicilian word schibecci both derive from the older Spanish escabeche, a word that means “marinated fish.”

The Arabs ruled both Spain and Sicily for centuries, and as a result, the word escabeche can be traced to the dialectal Arabic word iskibāj, itself derived from the older sikbāj, meaning “a kind of meat with vinegar and other ingredients.”

Mulinciana a Schibecci (Eggplant Ceviche)

In the old days you would be instructed to salt the eggplant slices to draw out their bitter juice, but modern eggplant cultivars don’t have this bitterness.

All Italian markets sell, or should sell, imported caciocavallo, otherwise you can generally find it online. You can keep the eggplant ceviche in the refrigerator for weeks.

Ingredients

4 pounds unpeeled eggplant, cut into thin rounds

6 to 8 cups olive oil

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 pounds chopped fresh tomatoes or canned San Marzano tomatoes

1 sprig fresh basil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup good quality white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh mint, finely chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup finely diced caciocavallo or sharp provolone cheese

Directions

1. In a large sauté pan or electric home deep-fryer, heat 6 to 8 cups olive oil to 370 F. Cook the eggplant rounds in batches until golden brown, about three minutes a side. Make sure you don’t crowd the fryer or pan, otherwise the temperature of the frying oil will drop and you’ll end up with a lot of greasy vegetables.

You may have to cook the eggplant in up to six or seven batches. This is where all the work is frankly. When they are cooked, remove them from the fry basket and leave to cool and drain on a paper towel-lined platter.

2. For the tomato sauce, heat a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil in a pan with two finely chopped garlic cloves over medium-high heat. After the garlic sizzles for 10 seconds, add the tomatoes.

3. Reduce the heat to medium; chop or mash the canned tomatoes further with a fork while they’re in the pan, add a leafy sprig of fresh basil and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until denser in about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook while stirring until yellow in about 10 minutes.

5. Add the reserved cooked eggplant, gently lifting and folding them in rather than stirring, but don’t worry if they break.

6. Dissolve the sugar in the white wine vinegar and add it to the casserole and let it evaporate for five minutes.

7. Add the tomato sauce and incorporate it gently then reduce the heat to medium-low and let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes, folding occasionally, not stirring.

8. Add the mint, the black pepper, and the cheese, again lifting and folding rather than stirring.

9. Let this cook 1 minute then transfer to a platter, season with salt and leave it to come to room temperature.

Eggplants for ceviche. Credit: Clifford A. Wright


Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "One-Pot Wonders" (Wiley).

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Comments

Mediterraneanista
on: 9/5/12
Do you think this recipe would work if instead of deep-frying the eggplant you brushed the eggplant rounds with olive oil and baked them in the oven til golden brown?
Clifford A. Wright
on: 9/8/12
It will work, make it much lighter, but you will miss out on the richness of the dish.
ROTHNH
on: 9/11/12
I spray the eggplant slices with a little olive oil, salt them, place them in a couple large jelly pans (a couple batches or so should do it) and put them in @ 375F until they brown to my liking. A lot less work then standing there over an electric fry pan babysitting 4-5 slices at a time. The rest of the recipe and instructions are about right.
Chef Pete
on: 9/12/12
Try placing a couple of garlic cloves and slices of onion in a food processor and chop. Then add some XV Olive Oil and process to blend. Let stand for an hour or two. Then slice the eggplant lengthwise,brush it with the oil herb mixture, sprinkle with a few pinches of sea salt and grill the slices on your BBQ. That way you are not heating your home in the summer with an oven and still enjoying your BBQ.
Peter Lambert
on: 9/12/12
Nice research work on the origins of the recipe. I live in Pantelleria, Italy 70 miles south of Sicily and 30 miles north of Tunisia so I see all the influences you mention in the local pantescan cuisine. Here we have different types of eggplant. The ones you show in the picture are considered as Egyptian and are considered to be very bitter and need to be salted. The Sicilian eggplant is the larger round eggplant with white shoulders fading into purple and as you say is very sweet and has less seed lines. I enjoyed the article keep up the good work!
Sally
on: 9/12/12
I dip the eggplant rounds in wash of egg white and water, dip them in bread crumbs and herbs and bake them at fairly high heat, turning once, til both sides are golden and crispy.
S.
on: 9/12/12
Escabeche and ceviche are two different things. The main difference is that the ingredients in an escabeche are cooked lightly (trough heat) and ceviche relies on the chemical reaction that the citric acid has on the protein in the dish.

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