Taking a stroll after yet another excessive seaside lunch yesterday, we passed some people working at the next restaurant processing piles of aubergines. Six years ago when we first arrived in Puglia, like most English and many other nationalities, we would have walked past, determined not to be seen looking, but dying of curiosity to know what they were doing. Inhibited by language barriers, shyness and a cultural inhibition to make contact with strangers we would march on by. And if our eyes did meet we would be shocked and disturbed at how casually they stared at us.
Now, thankfully, we march up to them and poke our noses. And our curiosity is duly rewarded with warm greetings, patient explanations and recipes.
- First, peel the aubergines. (In their case, 200kg.)
- Then slice all of the aubergines lengthways into 3mm slices – best to use a mandolin. Especially if you’re working 200kg…
- Layer the aubergines in large jars with coarse salt, slices of garlic and fresh mint leaves. When you get to the top of the jar squeeze as much of the aubergine liquid out as possible.
- Cover the aubergines with brine, weighing them down to keep them submerged.
- After 24 hours, drain the brine off and replace with vinegar. Weigh down again.
- After another 12 hours, drain and squeeze off the vinegar and cover with olive oil.
- Store for at least a month before eating. They should be good for up to a year. They assured me that there was no cooking involved, but I would be tempted to pasteurise / can them at this stage.
- 200kg will keep your restaurant in aubergine antipasta for 12 months.
As much as I was grateful for the recipe (after sampling many melanzane sott’olio, I recognise this version as my favourite) the interaction with these cooks was delightful and we’re reminded yet again how lucky we are to live amongst these warm open people. And how lucky we are to have had our attitudes changed, so that we can now poke our noses and stop missing out on such joys.
On the way home we stopped by the roadside to buy some potatoes from a tiny “stall” at the edge of the field where they were being harvested. The tanned, smiling old man also had jars of preserved aubergines which of course I had to buy too. There followed a conversation about how we had all found our paradiso. Couldn’t be more true.