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.
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.
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
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