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Recipe: Sicilian Eggplant Caponata by Guest Chef Sarah Grueneberg

Guest Chef Sarah Grueneberg sailed on Volendam this month and conducted cooking demonstrations in the ship’s state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Center. Grueneberg is the executive chef at Spiaggia in Chicago, Ill., and was a finalist on “Top Chef: Texas.”

Grueneberg shared her delicious recipes, and we’ll be featuring them in a few posts over the coming days. Here’s the first:

Chef Grueneberg with her Sicilian Eggplant Caponata.

Chef Grueneberg with her Sicilian Eggplant Caponata.

Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

YIELD:
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS:
2 pounds of long black eggplant, medium dice
Coarse sea salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup celery, small dice
½ cup yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup Italian tomato passatto (pureed tomatoes)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 cup green olives packed in brine, pitted (preferably Nocellara del Belice olives)
½ cup salted capers, rinsed (preferably capers from Pantelleria)
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup almonds, toasted and rough chop
2 tablespoons dried currants
Ground black pepper
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

DIRECTIONS:
In a large colander, toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of sea salt, set aside for 30 minutes (the salt draws out some of the bitter water from the eggplant). Lightly toss the eggplant to help drain the water.

In a large sauce pan or saute pan, heat ¼ cup of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the diced eggplant to the hot saute pan, stir and fry until a light golden brown, add a little more olive oil if the pan becomes dry. Remove fried golden eggplant to a small bowl.

Place the pan back on the heat, add the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic to the pan, sweat until translucent. Increase the heat to high, add the tomato passatto, fry the tomato in the olive oil and reduce heat to low. Once the tomato mixture is thickened, add the sugar, vinegar and cooked eggplant. Over low heat stir in remaining ingredients except the basil leaves, cook for 10 minutes and season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Remove from heat, transfer into a glass serving dish, add fresh basil leaves

Chef’s Tip: Caponata gets better the next day so make ahead time! Chef loves to have caponata as an appetizer with crusty bread and with grilled seafood and meat. I particularly like caponata with grilled swordfish and lamb.

About Chef Grueneberg:
Sarah Grueneberg developed a love for the culinary world as a small child. Raised in Houston, Grueneberg spent much of her time cooking and baking with her grandparents while her mother traveled for work. Her passion for exploring flavors and new cuisines grew from her German heritage as she made sausage, cinnamon rolls, and wild berry pies with her grandparents. Her flavor profile expanded in the fourth grade when she created her own restaurant called Taste of the World under her school’s bleachers. Grueneberg created globally-inspired menus and dishes from grass and flowers. From a young age it was easy to see that Sarah was destined to be a part of the culinary world.

Grueneberg attended the Art Institute of Houston and attained her associates degree in culinary arts in 2001. That July, Grueneberg joined Brennan’s of Houston working under Chef Randy Evans where she began as garde manger and worked her way up to become the restaurant’s youngest female sous chef at the age of 22 in 2003. While at Brennan’s Sarah was exposed to the epitome of southern hospitality and to a well-rounded menu of Texas Creole featuring locally driven foods, game meets and fresh farm produce.

In September 2005 Grueneberg joined the award-winning team at Spiaggia, Chicago’s only four-star Italian restaurant helmed by Chef Tony Mantuano. With just a brushstroke of experience with Italian cuisine, Grueneberg started on the line, which afforded her the opportunity to learn about Italian food, culture, and products. After much diligence and determination, Grueneberg was promoted to purchasing sous chef in February 2007 where she developed her leadership skills and gained insight into the business operations of a restaurant. In this position, she worked closely with Executive Chef Missy Robbins learning how to source and treat ingredients, developing her creative side. In August 2008, Grueneberg was promoted to chef di cucina, taking over for Chef Robbins.

Grueneberg’s growing knowledge of Italian food, culture and language has enabled her to create one-of-a-kind experiences for Spiaggia guests that ultimately led to her promotion to executive chef in January 2010. Since taking on this role, Grueneberg has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, Wine Enthusiast, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out Chicago, Eater, Grub Street, The Feast, The Daily Meal, and Star Chefs, among other outlets. In July 2010 she was named one of Chicago’s Rising Star Chefs by Chicago Social magazine and was named Chicago Chef of the Year in the 2011 Eater Awards. Furthermore, Grueneberg competed against 28 other cheftestants to make it to the finals of Bravo’s “Top Chef: Texas,” where she was named the runner-up on February 29, 2012.

To further broaden Grueneberg’s hands-on experience with Italian cuisine, she travels to Italy at least once a year to work with and visit some of the Italy’s best chefs and producers. Grueneberg has cooked in heralded kitchens including: Il San Lorenzo and Grano in Rome; Il Rigolleto in Reggiolo; and Del Pescatore, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Canento Sul’Oligo where Chef Tony Mantuano worked in 1984 prior to opening Spiaggia. From her travels, Grueneberg has become an expert on balsamico and attended the September 2010 harvest with producer Andrea Bezzecchi at his Acetaia San Giacomo with plans to further educate the Spiaggia and culinary community all about the vast world of balsamic vinegar.

When not cooking at Spiaggia, Grueneberg can be seen teaching Spiaggia cooking classes, leading demos at the Green City Market, practicing her Italian and exploring Chicago’s vast culinary world.

Follow Chef Sarah Grueneberg on Twitter @chefsarahjayne.

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