The other day I began reading "Forever" by Pete Hamill. The fictional book begins by telling the story of a young boy growing up in Ireland in the 1700's. Each night, the boy and his parents would gather together around the hearth in the center of their home and share a stewed meal that was lovingly prepared by the boy's mother.
Reading this story reminded me of the importance and meaning associated with sharing a homemade meal with loved ones and thus was inspired to create a comforting and homey meal that Andrew and I could enjoy together. I had a gorgeous, huge eggplant in my refrigerator (that, due to my excitement to start making this dish, I forgot to photograph before I diced it up!) that I thought would be perfect to use in a vegetarian stew.
Besides being an approachable and comforting meal, stews are also appealing because they usually are fine to simmer away relatively unattended, allowing the cook time to relax and spend time with their family or guests before the meal is served.
I usually associate stews with a winter food, but for this dish I used light and fresh ingredients that taste rich only because of the low and slow cooking process. The eggplant and Great Northern beans created a rich and meaty-tasting stew, that in fact is completely vegetarian. And, to make this a vegan dish, simply leave out the anchovy paste.
Stewed Spicy Eggplant
1 1/2 lbs eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
squeeze of anchovy paste (leave out to make vegan)
1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 15 oz. can Great Northern or Cannellini beans, rinsed
1/2 cup olives, pitted & chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
Dice the eggplant into 1" cubes, sprinkle with salt and place in a colander. Let sit for about an hour and then rinse (this process, which reduces the eggplant's bitterness is called "degorging").
Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for another minute, or until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add in the tomato paste and anchovy paste and stir to combine.
Add in the cubed eggplant and tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan using the red wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the eggplant is tender.
During the last 10 minutes, stir in the beans, olives and half of the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, spoon into bowls, top with the remaining parsley and serve with crusty, fresh bread.