Melanzane sott’olio (Eggplant Cured in Oil)

Frankantipasti, contorno31 Comments

Melanzane sott'olio

As we enter into late summer, it’s once again the traditional time of year for putting up the season’s bountiful vegetables for enjoyment in the colder weather months. Some vegetables, like tomatoes, take to straight up canning. They are briefly cooked, either peeled and left whole (for pelati) or milled (for passata) before being sealed in mason jars. Other vegetables can be prepared sott’aceto, literally “under vinegar” aka pickled, as in the much loved antipasto known as gardiniera.

Today we’re taking a look at yet another technique for putting up vegetables known as sott’olio, literally “under oil”, using eggplant as our prime example. You cut the eggplant into strips, salt them overnight, then lightly parboil them in a mixture of vinegar and water, and finally cure them in oil with garlic and herbs.

Vegetables preserved sott’olio may not be quite as piquant as those sott’aceto, but they’re every bit as tasty. So tasty, in fact, you won’t want to wait until winter to enjoy them, whether as antipasto on their own or as a topping for bruschetta, as part of a rice salad or as a side for roasted or grilled meats.

Ingredients

Makes one large mason jar

  • 2-3 medium eggplants, about 750 g-1 kilo/2 lbs
  • Salt, q.b.
  • 500 ml/2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 500 ml/2 cups water
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano or mint (or both)
  • 1-2 peperoncini, cut into small pieces, or red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions

Peel the eggplants, the slice them and then cut the slices into strips about the size of your little finger.

Salt the eggplant strips generously and lay the in a colander inside a bowl. Top with a small plate and weigh the plate down. (A small can of tuna, beans or tomatoes works well.) Leave to rest overnight.

Melanzane sott'ollo

The next day, as pictured above, a considerable amount of liquid should have drained into the bowl. Discard that. Take the eggplant strips by the handful and squeeze them of as much of their remaining liquid as you can.

Melanzane sott'olio

Bring the vinegar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the eggplant by the handful and boil each batch for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.

When the eggplant strips are cool enough to handle, squeeze them again of their excess liquid.

Now, place the eggplant strips in a mason jar or other air-tight container, layering them with bits of garlic, peperoncino and herbs.

Melanzane sott'olio

Press everything down to compact the contents of the jar, then add as much olive oil as you need to cover the eggplant strips completely.

Close the jar tightly and let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least a couple of days, preferably a week, before consuming.

Notes on preserving sott’olio

The sott’olio technique is hard to mess up. But if you want best results, there are a few tips to bear in mind when it comes to the ingredients.

First and foremost, use medium to small eggplants if you can find them. They tend to be more tender and contain fewer seeds than the usual gigantic ones.

Use fresh hot red peppers, if you can find them, although as you will have seen, I used dried ones for this post as that’s what I had in the house. (And I don’t do single item shopping these days for obvious reasons!) If you do use dried peperoncini, use a bit less as they tend to be hotter than the fresh variety.

White wine vinegar is, for some reason, harder to find than red, but it’s important for this dish as it won’t discolor the veg. In a pinch, you can substitute apple cider vinegar. And if, like me, you prefer a milder flavor, you can use a 2:1 water to vinegar ratio rather than the 1:1 ratio mentioned here.

The olive oil, of course, is perhaps the most crucial ingredient besides the eggplant, so use the best quality oil you can find and afford. Personally I prefer fruity southern Italian oils from Puglia and Sicily for this dish, but again, what I had on hand was a milder oil from Liguria. It was still delicious.

Variations

The basic sott’olio technique is remarkably consistent across recipes, but there are a few variations worth mentioning.

First off, to salt or not to salt? These days most eggplants don’t really need salting to remove their bitterness, as they used to tell you in the old days. But salting is still helpful for preserving eggplant sott’olio, in my opinion, as it helps soften the eggplant to better absorb its flavorings. And, of course, the salt itself seasons the eggplant. But if you want to skip this step, increase the parboil time to 3-5 minutes. And you’ll be in fine company; none other than my muse Jeanne Caròla Francesconi doesn’t salt her melanzane sott’olio. If you do opt not to pre-salt the eggplant, do make sure to season the parboiling liquid.

Then there’s the oil curing time. The majority of recipes call for at least a week’s cure before consuming the eggplant. A few tell you to cure the eggplant as long as a month. Truth be told, the eggplant will be perfectly edible in just a couple of days, although the favor and texture both improve with time. Let your own taste (and patience) be your guide.

Recipes vary on the choice of herbs, mostly calling for oregano or mint. Each has its charms. Oregano produces a ‘spicier’ result, while mint provides a fresher taste. Some recipes call for both, which sounds confusing to the palate. Yet others call for bay leaf, basil or parsley. And it seems to me that you could play around with other herbs as suit your taste. And, it should go almost without saying, the measurements given here for the garlic and herbs are notional. It’s really all just to taste.

Preserving other veggies sott’olio

A variety of other vegetables can be preserved using the same oil cure. Here are tips on some of the most typical:

  • Peppers: The peppers can be preserved sott’olio two ways. Method 1: Trim red or yellow bell peppers as indicated in this post and cut them into strips. Cook parboil them three minutes in vinegar and water and proceed as in the above recipe. Method 2: Roast the pepper as in this post, then proceed to layer them with the garlic and herbs and cover with oil as above.
  • Mushrooms: Small mushrooms like pioppini or chiodini can be left whole. Otherwise, cut them into halves or quarters depending on size. Parboil in vinegar and water, 3 minutes for very small mushrooms, otherwise 5-7 minutes. Then proceed as above.
  • Zucchini: Cut them into round slices or batons, salt them but only for an hour or two. (Or skip the salting if you prefer.) Then parboil the rounds or batons in vinegar and water for 3-5 minutes and proceed as above.
  • Baby artichokes: Trim the artichokes as indicated in this post, then depending on their size and your preference, leave them whole or cut in halves or quarters. Parboil for 5-7 minutes in vinegar and water, then proceed as above. With the artichoke’s delicate flavor, you may want to omit the peperoncino and use black peppercorns instead. NB: Some recipes have your lightly grill the artichokes rather than parboil them.

None of these vegetables absorb water quite like eggplant, so there’s no need to squeeze them dry. (In fact, the delicate zucchini would turn to mush if you tried.) Rather, just pat them dry with paper towels after salting (for the zucchini) and after parboiling (for all of them). And so remember to season the parboiling liquid since you will not have pre-salted the veg.

In Puglia they apply the sotto’olio technique to lampascioni, the bulb of the tassel hyacinth, a kind of flowering wild onion plant typical of the region. Since lampascioni are basically impossible to find elsewhere, I won’t bother with the recipe here, but if you read Italian, this post describes it well.

Long-term storage

Vegetables preserved sott’olio should last for a few weeks without any special treatment, so long as you make sure they are completely covered by the oil. Once open, it’s a good precaution to refrigerate any leftovers, just let it come back to room temp before serving.

For longer term storage, you can sterilize and seal the jars by first dishwashing them first on the “sanitize” or equivalent setting. After filling the jars, simmering them in enough water to cover for 30 minutes. This should produce a vacuum seal. Your canned veg should last through the winter, if not longer.

Melanzane sott’olio

Eggplant Cured in Oil
Total Time1 hr
Course: Antipasto, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: preserved

Ingredients

  • 2-3 2-3 medium eggplants, about 750 g-1 kilo/2 lbs
  • Salt,  q.b.
  • 500m 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 500ml 2 cups water
  • 2-3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano or mint (or both)
  • 1-2 peperoncini, cut into small pieces, or red pepper flakes optional

Instructions

  • Peel the eggplants, the slice them and then cut the slices into strips about the size of your little finger.
  • Salt the eggplant strips generously and lay the in a colander inside a bowl. Top with a small plate and weigh the plate down. Leave to rest overnight.
  • The next day a considerable amount of liquid should have drained into the bowl. Discard. Take the eggplant strips by the handful and squeeze them of as much of their remaining liquid as you can.
  • Bring the vinegar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the eggplant by the handful and boil each batch for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.
  • When the eggplant strips are cool enough to handle, squeeze them again of their excess liquid.
  • Now, place the eggplant strips in a mason jar or other air-tight container, layering them with bits of garlic, peperoncino and herbs.
  • Press everything down to compact the contents of the jar, then add as much olive oil as you need to cover the eggplant strips completely.
  • Close the jar tightly and let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least a couple of days, preferably a week, before consuming.

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31 Comments on “Melanzane sott’olio (Eggplant Cured in Oil)”

  1. Buon giorno, Frank. I just have to say thank you so much for posting this rendition of
    a melanzane sott’ olio recipe. This antipasto is one of my absolute favorites and unfortunately my grandma never wrote down her recipe of it . I am a big gardener as was she and the last few years I have tried to make melanzane sott’ olio with my eggplants and found it extremely difficult to find recipes that included the different ways of preparations in un biased ways. My family had always canned and stored a bunch in the pantry for months, and also gave as Christmas presents. But I had found it extremely difficult to find recipes these days for that method. Most were only for short term fridge storage, and were very cautious about saying to not store long term and other things like to not use fresh herbs for danger of botulism. Then after extensive searching I found a good recipe in Italian but then it was like you can put it in any type of left over jar and tighten with your hands and store for months (which I do not think is safe). So both ends of the spectrum. However last year I just followed bits and pieces of a few different recipes and then canned them via water bath as I do for pickling and it turned out fabulous. Each year seems to get better. My family was so pleased to be able to enjoy this delicious antipasto once again. I actually dont really need a recipe for it anymore, as I was blessed with my mothers “lil this, lil’ that, lil taste” Italian way of cooking and at this point of trial and error I have gotten the gist of it enough to make it my own. But I do check back in every year online to see if any better recipes have been posted and long story long, you have posted the BEST one I have yet to see. So thank you, and if anyone else has read this far, MAKE THIS DISH! You will not regret it, it never fails to satisfy friends and family, even if they dont like eggplants! Its good on EVERYTHING!

    1. That’s so very kind of you to say, Lexi! And I love that old “lil this, lit’ that” way of cooking. It’s the way I tend to cook, too. Hard to convey in writing, but I do try to even when blogging.

  2. Your post brought me back in time. Aunt Lucia would make melanzane sott’olio and they were a special treat. The best way for me to savor them was to go into the pantry with a fork and take a piece out of the jar. Great recipe!

    1. If you sterilize the jars, then several months. If not, I’d use it within a month just to be on the safe side. Again, making sure that the veg is completely covered in the oil.

  3. Pretty much exactly my recipe! For peppers look up peperoni pric o prac: they are delicious! And zucchini can be grilled before going under oil, but I find it so time consuming, I end up going for pickling mine….

    1. Nice to hear from you, Paola, after all this time! I did Google peperoni pric o prac. The recipe looks delicious! (And by the way, perhaps due to your comment, my first “hit” was this blog post! The mysterious ways of the internet…

      Like grilled zucchini sott’olio, too. Should have mentioned it!

    1. Ah well… Actually, as mentioned you can go light on the vinegar if you like. I’m not too partial to sour tastes so that’s what I do. That might help? And if he doesn’t like eggplant, then there’s always peppers, zucchini, mushrooms… etc. etc. Of you could just make a batch for yourself. 😉

  4. Frank, your Melanzane sott’olio brings back found memories for me. When we live in the US (Kentucky) I grew lots of eggplant and always gave bag of small fresh picked ones to a dear friend of mine from Italy. In return, I received a few jars of his Melanzane sott’olio which was such a treat to eat.
    I’ve not made this but with your excellent tutorial I see a jar or three setting on the kitchen counter.

    1. Gee, I wish I’d been your neighbor… lol! I do think you’re going to like this one, Ron. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. What a fun idea, Frank! Years ago, I learned about marinating artichokes in olive oil, and that was a huge hit. The artichokes themselves were delicious, and the artichoke-infused olive oil was excellent on salads and in other recipes. However, I’ve never done this with eggplant! This post has totally inspired me. I wonder if you could do a combination of artichoke and eggplant in same jar?

  6. With a birthright from Northern Europe of frigid winters pickled vegetables are naturally second nature even half-a-lifetime later in warmer climes. I have used a form of sott’olio technique for mushrooms . . . beetroot, cucumbers, pumpkin et al having usually gone the oil-less route. Thank you for the suggestion as I would like to try both eggplant but also peppers and zucchini this way . . . as we freely get all vegetables the year round this may be sooner rather than later . . .

    1. If you do try it, let us know how you like it. I’m partial to this method of preserving vegetables as I’m not overly fond of pickles, to be honest. At least if they’re very sour. I do rather like the kind of pickle they call “half sour” in this country.

  7. What a great way to preserve the flavours of summer; I can just imagine how beautifully the flavours take you right back to the warmth and sunshine in the middle of a blustery cold day. It’s just the two of us so I don’t can much but I am interested in this. Won’t refrigerating make the oil coagulate? Would you bring to room temperature before serving?/

  8. Neat recipe. I’ve never prepared this. Never thought of making it, to be honest, but now I’m chomping at the bit to do so! Gotta get eggplants, of course, but this is the time of year when they really shine. Thanks for the discussion about salt. I’ve long since stopped salting mine as a matter of course — it’s never bitter — but I can see why softening it helps it absorb more flavor. At lest I think I can — sounds like a fun experiment to make a batch with and without. 🙂 Anyway, good stuff — thanks.

  9. I have never preserved sott’olio. I feel I need to do it this summer… I have a good amount of baby eggplant with no immediate plans. Well, no plans until now. I will pick up a red chile tomorrow at the market — and I will be on my way!

  10. They look delicious. That’s one of the oldest methods of food preservation, practiced by the Persians and later the Ancient Greeks and Romans. No doubt they had the most enormous amphorae full of them.

  11. I love eggplant but have never seen or tasted a preserved version. How do you serve it? Is it a side dish, smeared on bread, over pasta?

    1. Personally I wouldn’t be tempted to use in on pasta, but as a side or on bread, yes! It can also make its way into summer salads as well.

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