A couple of weeks ago, I was scouring the farmers market looking for inspiration. My spring canning class was coming up and I wanted to show the class something a little bit different in the pickle category – something that might inspire them to think of vegetable pickles “outside the jar”. Something that would lend itself to use beyond a sandwich garnish. My eyes landed on some beautiful, stripey, baby eggplant, and I knew immediately what I would do.
Two years ago, while participating in the Can Jam, I created a recipe for pickling spring onions and green garlic in balsamic vinegar and red wine that was so versatile, I used it as part of an antipasto plate, on cheese sandwiches, and even used the pickling liquid as a dressing for salads and caprese picks. That recipe was even chosen to be included in Sarah B. Hood’s book, We Sure Can!
I thought that something similar would work for this beautiful baby eggplant, so I gave it a try. And yes, it was worth it! The eggplant became tender and smooth – almost unctuous – contrasting in texture with the still firm onion, and the sweet/tart balsamic brine works beautifully as a dressing, alone or mixed with melted butter and/or olive oil.
One of my serving suggestions in class: Melt 2 Tbs butter, add 2 Tbs olive oil, then add a one pint jar of this pickle, including the liquid. Heat gently for just a couple of minutes and toss with hot pasta, long or short, of your choice. Instant supper! If you use short pasta, toss the hot pasta with olive oil and this pickle, and you can also serve it as a cold pasta salad – refreshing on a hot summer day. The possibilities go on and this recipe is easily doubled if your eggplant crop starts getting out of control, this summer.
(Makes about 3 pints)
- 1 ½ lbs baby eggplant
- 1 large red spring onion
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 cup red wine (preferably Italian)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp canning salt (or 1 ½ tsp kosher salt)
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
- ¾ cup balsamic vinegar (5% acidity or higher)
Fill the canning pot with water and bring to a boil. Place 3 pint canning jars and their lids into the pot and sterilize for 10 minutes. While this is happening:
Wash and dry the eggplant, cut off the stem caps, and slice lengthwise into quarters. If using a less-tender-skinned variety of eggplant, you may wish to peel it first. Peel the onion, cut off the ends, cut in half lengthwise and cut into thick slices, also lengthwise. Peel garlic cloves and smash with the broad part of the knife blade.
Put the vegetables into a medium non-reactive pot, add the wine, water, and salt, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-high, and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Divide the hot vegetables equally between the 3 hot jars, pressing down firmly. Add the hot liquid to each jar. Release trapped air bubbles with a chopstick or any thin, non-metallic tool (such as a plastic knife), allowing the liquid to fill the space. Leave ½” headroom at the top of each jar, removing any excess liquid with a spoon.
Clean the jar rims well with a wet paper towel, place lids on the jars, screw on the rings finger-tight, and return to the canning pot. Bring back to a rolling boil and process for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the jars to remain in the water for an additional 5 minutes before removing them to a covered surface to cool. Listen for the ping!
Allow to meld for a minimum 1 ½ – 2 weeks before using. Of course, it gets better with age.