mario batali’s eggplant caponata + some news!


Folks, I have much to tell you, and I had hoped that August would be off to a slow start, but I was wrong. It’s been pretty busy and a few things here and there needed to be done for one of the books, so that’s kept me occupied. We had family visiting over the weekend, and by far, my personal highlight was going through The Food of Spain with my two-year old niece who was riveted. She fell completely and unabashedly in love with Angelita Carcia de Paredes Barreda (an 84-year old Franciscan nun) on page 214 and for twenty minutes straight we played the game of “Where’s the old lady?” She was also really taken by the fried goat cheese, but then again, who wouldn’t be? Fried goat cheese is stuff of the gods, right?

I don’t know why, and there’s no segue or connection to my news or to eggplant caponata I wanted to tell you about, but I’ve been thinking – a lot – about a really good high school friend of mine. When I say really good, she might have been one of the biggest influences in my life. She was fiercely smart – smarter than anyone I’ve ever met – and well educated. She spoke, and picked up, languages with great ease: Russian, Arabic, Farsi. She taught herself ancient Greek; she was fluent in Latin. She introduced me to authors and food; music and theatre – and she had a razor sharp wit. I always, always, looked up to her. She pulled me through some hairy situations and it was wonderful and lovely to spend our post high-school and college years in New York. She took me to a hole in the wall restaurant that served outstanding pasta alla carbonara, she extolled the virtues of cacio e pepe; and I still fondly recall our incredible meals at the now-shuttered, excellent, Cookies and Couscous that served, well, you get the idea. She was incredibly hard to get to know, but through our many years of friendship, there were moments when she’d open up. She was like a sister to me.

And then one day she stopped answering her phone. And then the number became disconnected.


At first I thought maybe we had some kind of a girl friendship falling out. You know: sometimes you grow apart and one person just stops picking up the phone. I assumed I wasn’t smart or cool enough to hang out with her – and while it made me very sad, there was nothing that I could do. There was no way of getting in touch with her. I missed my friend but I had to move on with life.

But then, when from time to time, I’d try to see what she was up to, I’d find, over and over again that it was as if she’d never existed. She was a ghost. Whatever digital record might have been out there of her, someone went to great lengths to expunge it.

Wherever she is, whatever she is doing, I hope she is all right.

When Andrew and I were getting married, there was this ache, this pull on my heart. I really wanted her to be there, to witness the day with us, to meet Andrew (whom she would immediately love) – but there was no way of reaching her.

But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and hope she is safe, well, and happy.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Whenever something great, something amazing (or even something awful) happens, you want to share the news with your core people: your closest friends, your family. I’m a generally very private, but my tight circle of friends is my extended family. And I like to share my news with them.
And something great and amazing did happen last month. But I was too busy meeting two deadlines (for the same day, no less) and sitting down to tell of any news was nowhere near on my mind. But… here goes.


Starting September 2, I’ll be joining Phaidon Press, full time, as a project editor in their cookbook division reporting to the wonderful Emily Takoudes (formerly of Clarkson Potter). I don’t have the words to properly describe how happy I am about this. It is a dream job with a dream publisher. I’ve long been an admirer of Phaidon cookbooks: their beauty, their timelessness, their usefulness. I had never, in a million years, would’ve imagined I’d ever work for them. But it happened, and I have many people to thank along the way, but most especially friends Julia Turshen and Melissa Clark who were more than generous with their praise. To think that four years ago I was still working in finance… if someone had told me then that I’d be writing cookbooks, and joining an incredible publisher, I would’ve laughed. I would have never believed them.

Perhaps, none of this were possible had Andrew not been so convincing in encouraging me to switch careers. In some ways, all credit, the seed of all this, at least, goes to him.

So what happens now? A few of you, when I shared the news on Facebook and Twitter asked me what “project editor” means. This means that while Emily will be focusing on acquiring new projects, I’ll be focused on the existing ones. So that there’s a very clear division of duties. Working with writers, chefs, photographers, designers — sounds like a dream. I love the process of seeing a book start out as a lump of clay and grow into becoming its own living and breathing organism. I find that inflection point, when it starts resembling something, to be magical.

As far as the books I’m currently working on: with chef Marc Murphy and the Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream team, I will see those projects to the end. I just will not be taking on new work as a writer. I’ll be plenty busy working with other writers on their respective books.

So that’s my news – a new, exciting job. A job I cannot wait to start – though I’m not exactly rushing through August. I could use a few slow weeks of doing nothing; and seeing as I’ve barely taken a proper vacation since 2011, I think I’ve more than earned these weeks.


As for the recipe, I’ve long wanted to share a recipe for caponata, but kept missing the eggplant season. This here is an old Mario Batali recipe I’ve been making for years. I’ve made a few tweaks through the years, but as any of you who’ve cooked Batali’s food know, his recipes are so amazing that hardly any tweaking is needed. I’ve had lots of caponata versions through the years – and made nearly a dozen slightly different ones – but this one here, is in my opinion, superior to any others I’ve encountered. If you’re a fan of Sicilian ingredients: pine nuts, mint, chile flake, to name a few, sweet-and-sour (agrodolce) notes, then this will hit the spot. Eggplant is just excellent this time of year, so make good use of it. Along with this eggplant caviar, it’s something I love to have on hand. It makes for a stellar snack and unbeatable antipasto.

Make a huge batch, then invite some of your favorite people over, and share some wine and stories. And if you’ve good news to share – even better.

Eggplant Caponata
Slightly tweaked from Mario Batali

I normally don’t tweak much in Batali recipes – they’re perfect as they are, but most of the time, I don’t have at-the-ready pre-made tomato sauce. Instead, I’ve generally found that good canned tomatoes, spiked with some garlic and chile flake, will work in a pinch, so I use that here. I was out of currants (confession: I am pretty much always out of currants) but not of golden raisins (which are Andrew’s favorite) so I used those instead, and I prefer them to currants in this recipe, but if you want to go full-Sicilian, then by all means, hunt down those dried currants. Please, please, please, don’t skip on pine nuts. Yes, they are expensive (though Trader Joe’s sells them for a song) but they are an integral component of caponata. I scaled balsamic down just a touch and threw in whole thyme sprigs, because I was lazy to pick all those leaves off; I later fished out whatever was left of the sprigs – the leaves had fallen into the caponata. Batali starts you off with half the amounts below, but last time I checked, no one has ever complained of extra caponata lingering in the fridge. It makes for a terrific snack and instant antipasto if you have unexpected company.

Olive oil
2 large Spanish onions, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
6 tablespoons pine nuts
6 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoon hot chili flakes, plus extra for garnish
2 garlic cloves, smashed
4 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (to yield 8 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 10 healthy sprigs left whole
1 (12.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (I recommend doing this to taste, but to give you an idea, I used about 1 teaspoon for my batch)
1/4 cup fresh, chopped mint
1 baguette, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and toasted on grill or in oven, optional

1. In a large 14-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, heat enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, pine nuts, raisins, chile flakes, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add the eggplant, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa and continue to cook until the eggplant starts to soften, about 5 more minutes. Add the thyme, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil.

3. Lower the heat and simmer the caponata for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool to room temperature or refrigerate until needed. Before serving, garnish with mint and chile flakes. Serve as crostini topping or a side dish.


  • Robert


    So happy for you, Olga…and, one day, may you reconnect with your old friend.

  • Kim Foster

    I am so so so so HAPPY for you, Olga. This is the best news. Everything is coming together for you and I’m so proud. Well-done, girl!!! xoxo

  • Stephanie

    Hi there!I have read your blog for years and wanted to congratulate you on the news! Perseverance pays off-I am currently in a position where I am trying to switch careers as well. Your new job sounds like a dream! And the recipe looks outstanding-love eggplant!

  • Sharmila

    Congratulations Olga! So very happy for you. Wishing you a fantastic time at your fabulous new job.
    I’ve had friendships like that. Sometimes all you can do is wish the person well and leave it at that, but I hope for better than that for you, that you reconnect with this friend you miss so much.

  • olga

    Cheryl, Robert, and Sharmila – thank you, and I hope so too.

    tracy – thank you so much, friend! xo

    Kim – you too, lady! Another book? You’re on fire!

    Stephanie – thank you so much for your kind words.

  • Abby

    Congratulations on the new job!!!
    It sounds absolutely amazing, and I hope it’s as fulfilling as it sounds. Your blog so often picks me up when I need a lift – thank you! I’ve also lost a beloved friend-soulmate who just dropped out of everyone’s life…I hope you reconnect with yours. As for this recipe – luckily eggplant NEVER seems to go out of season in Israel, so I’ll splurge on the pine nuts!!

  • olga

    Gayle – Yes, this month hopefully will be manageable (?) I am so hoping to be more free! Will message you.

    MJ – thank you, friend! xo

    Abby – such kind and thoughtful words – thank you! I have a feeling there’s a reason my friend is a ‘ghost’ and it might be same as your friend. Let’s hope they’re safe and well!

  • Wendy Read

    I am so happy for you Olga! I am a quiet reader usually don’t comment, but I just had to this time. You are going to be fabulous :) I am haunted by the story of your friend….I so hope you can get completion with that one way or another–would be lovely to know that she is alright.

    Warm wishes for much success.

  • elena

    Hi Olga. I have been reading your blog for a long time. Never commented before. i am so happy for you. you are so smart, your every post its like piece of art. good luck for you beginning. Thank you for sharing a story about your lost friend. People come to you in life for reason, season, or a life time, even if its was for a short period of time. Again, all the best!

  • Georgie

    Olga, Congratulations

    I’m so happy for you. Amazing how the stars have aligned this summer. I too have a new role similar to yours, though different industry. I am equally elated for you and with you.

    I am in symphony with Elena & Wendy words regarding your friend. I hope that one day that your beautiful friend returns into your life and the two of you shall begin where you left off.

    Enjoy the new chapter in your life.

  • Andi

    I had a beautiful eggplant, and made 1/2 quantity. One medium globe gave me 4 cups. A couple of things, tho garlic is called for, the actual cooking directions don’t mention it. I crushed it and threw it in with onions. Also, unless you’re a real chili head, wouldn’t use the entire amount of chili flakes. 3/4 of a Tablespoon(for my 1/2 quanity) was still too much for me. Too dominant for my taste. With those tweeks, it should be delicious. Thanks for sharing

  • olga

    Andi – caponata definitely has a kick as Sicilian dishes often do. of course, everyone should adjust spice level to taste, but I trusted Batali’s instructions here and was glad I did. Thank you for the garlic tip, I’ll fix, but the garlic is meant to be smashed and left whole as a clove in order to not make the caponata too garlicky. And it sounds like you actually had a large eggplant :) but so long as you got 4 cups (1/2 the amt) you’re all good.

  • Deepa

    I’ve long been an interloper and silent troller on your site. I speak now for a few reasons: first, it’s almost a relief to find that some bloggers can still manage to do amazing things while not being as regular with posts as all the blog gurus will tell you. Second, your news just demands congratulations–we don’t know each other, but I’m delighted for you nonetheless :) And last, I know that feeling about old friends lost. It’s an endless ache, a story unfinished. If you don’t find her again, I do hope you find in your new projects some ways to close off that chapter.. or keep it open just a wedge in case she comes by again. My very best to you.

  • olga

    Deepa – thank you for your sweet words; I have a feeling there’s a reason my friend is quiet and it’s a good one. I just hope she’s okay. I miss her, but there’s no hard feelings or anything of the sort. As for the news, three years ago, I resolved to transition into cookbooks full time and professionally. While i have no desire to write a book of my own, I love being involved in telling other people’s stories. The blog was never meant to become my ‘career’ so to speak; it’s a place for me to keep creative and share what I know with others. As for other bloggers’ advice… some of it is great and other is so-so. However – different blogs, people, intent can take on different advice. I think that there’s a lot of interest these days (and for some time now) to reach fame with your blog, particularly with food, so people start blogs in order to land book deals. Some are successful at it; others aren’t. But at the end of the day, this little space you carve out for yourself should first, and foremost, be for you. Blog as often or infrequently as you want. For me, quality always trumped quantity and frequency. After all, our lives aren’t meant to be lived on these pages – but out there, in the world.

    Georgi – thank you – I meant to thank you earlier and then got distracted :) xx

  • Susan

    Congratulations! (and I hope you hear of/from your friend. I have been going through something similar & I do understand. I’d rather hear bad news at this point.)

  • Cristina

    Congrats! That is wonderful news, well done. I hope your friend is okay. You have the whole internet as a platform, so unless you think she might actually be an undercover operative (a possibility with the number of languages she speaks!), why not use all of your outlets (the blog, your facebook, etc) to call to her by name? Maybe someone will have some information.

  • olga

    Cristina – that’s kind of what I was getting at – I think she might not want to be found or called out by name :) I think that is the reason she has no digital record. I don’t, for a second, think that her disappearance had anything to do with a voluntary desire of not wanting to be found. I think there’s a very good reason things are the way they are – and all I can hope for is that she is okay and one day we’ll reconnect. Yesterday was her birthday; she always joked it was an honor and a privilege to share it with el presidente. :)

  • Cristina

    Oh dear, I hope she’s okay too and that she will reach out to you when she is able to. Maybe she reads your blog!

  • Molly

    I absolutely love this recipe but have often wondered if the two tablespoons of hot chili flakes is a copy error. I’ve choked it down as the original recipe, balanced it off with some chocolate, and also reduced it to 1 tablespoon and then down to 2 teaspoons. I’ve also found that a box of Pomi marinara or just a plain box of Pomi crushed tomatoes is the perfect measurement.

  • olga

    Molly – I do like it quite spicy, so to me it works out fine, but everyone’s palate is different. Sicilian food is generally very liberal with chile flakes and it’s not uncommon for it to be quite spicy. Still, whatever works for you – is the best tasting dish, right? I tend to use my canned tomatoes and doctor it up with some garlic, and it tastes great to me; Pomi is excellent stuff too!

  • Kasey

    I missed this news somehow (glad I caught the OTHER big news hehe). Congratulations!! Dream jobs are hard to come by, but it feels so good to say you’ve got one of those. Here’s to a LOT of wonderful new adventures! x

  • olga

    Kasey – thanks! Lots of good things happening – and suddenly life as a commuter leaves me so pooped at the end of the day. Need to get my meal planning on asap, there’s only so much takeout we (and our wallets) can take!

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