Grilled Sardines with Caponata
Caponata is a condiment, and all recipes for it are based on eggplant, but a good caponata has to have some texture; it can't be mush. I love caponata with grilled fresh sardines, which have a nutty taste and are strong enough to stand up to the caponata's flavors. Make the caponata the day before. It can be served hot or cold or at room temperature.
2 pounds medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes sea salt
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for coating the sardines
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 small onion, diced
1 bay leaf
15 Gaeta olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
16 fresh sardine fillets
high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Place the cubed eggplant in a colander or on a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Let sit for at least 2 hours.
Use paper towels to dry the eggplant and brush away the salt. Heat 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a deep, straight-sided sauté pan over a medium-high flame. Add the eggplant and, using a spatula to stir, cook for 5 minutes, until limp and tender. Transfer the cooked eggplant back to the colander to drain.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan over a medium flame. Add the garlic and let it infuse for about a minute. Add the diced onion and the bay leaf. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the olives, brown sugar, capers, raisins, pine nuts, and balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine. Add the reserved eggplant, continuing to stir gently. Cook until the pan is almost dry, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl, and set aside until the caponata is room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat the broiler.
Brush the sardines with olive oil and season each side with salt and pepper. Grill, skin side down, over white-hot coals (or skin side up under a broiler) for 1 to 2 minutes to char the skin; cook on skin side only.
To serve, spoon some caponata onto four serving plates. Top each with four grilled sardines, skin side up. Finish with a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, a little sea salt, and some freshly ground black pepper
Buy small eggplant; they have fewer seeds.