Being of Italian descent, Santiago Guzzetti of Ilda in Sylva, North Carolina, grew up eating a lot of polenta. Now at Ilda, there is always a polenta dish on my menu. It’s really versatile and tasty and can carry a lot of flavors from many different ingredients, and they all work well. This dish is a Sicilian recipe and the eggplant caponata gets a little cocoa powder. It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, a little salty, and a little acidic, making it a comfortable dish to share with loved ones.
From An Appalachian Italian Holiday
Serves 4 to 6
3 eggplants, diced into large chunks
Pinch of salt, plus more to taste
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 thyme sprig
2 pepperoncini, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
Black pepper to taste
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 cup chopped basil
1½ cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream
1 bay leaf
1 cup finely ground polenta
2 tablespoons butter
Black pepper to taste
For topping: Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Basil leaves
For the caponata:
For the polenta:
Make the caponata
- Place eggplant pieces in a mixing bowl and add pinch of salt; rub salt evenly into the pieces. Let rest until eggplant starts to release some water into the base of the bowl.
- Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with a few inches of olive oil and place over medium heat. Carefully add eggplant pieces to oil in batches, frying until pieces are golden brown around the edges. Reserve eggplant and discard all but 1 to 2 tablespoons oil.
- Add eggplant, onion, garlic, and thyme to pot and place over medium-low heat. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring regularly, until eggplant is softened.
- Add pepperoncini, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium-low heat until liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes more. Adjust seasonings as needed. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.
Make the polenta
- In a saucepan, combine milk, heavy cream, bay leaf, and a pinch of salt and place over medium-high heat until simmering. Slowly whisk in polenta, then lower heat and stir often until polenta is soft and creamy, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf and add butter, salt, and pepper to taste.
- To serve, place polenta in a serving dish and top with the caponata. Garnish with Parmigiano Reggiano and basil leaves.
Recipe BySantiago Guzzetti of Ilda in Sylva, North Carolina