This sheet pan eggplant caponata atop fluffy couscous has a tangy secret

'STUFF ON TOP': Sheet Pan Caponata and Couscous With Goat Cheese. Rey Lopez/For The Washington Post

When I worked at an Italian restaurant in Upstate New York, one of the chefs I cooked alongside used to make some version of this dish for family meal whenever it was his turn to cook. The other sous chefs and cooks and I knew it as "couscous with stuff on top."

The "stuff on top" usually consisted of sauteed or roasted seasonal vegetables – whatever looked tired or was on the verge of molding in the walk-in. It could be anything: wrinkly spring peas and limp cabbage, squishy tomatoes and onions, black-eyed peas and yellowing mustard greens. When it was good, it was really good. And when it wasn't, well, it was a free meal.

Sometimes there was protein, but then things got even more ... creative. Chicken legs braised in prune juice were memorable, as was the night we got sliced hot dogs and pickles atop a mound of feathery couscous, a dollop of neon-yellow mustard on the side.

For me, one thing set the good versions of this dish apart from the rest. Occasionally, my former colleague would plate the couscous on top of a small mound of goat cheese.

Under the hot couscous, the goat cheese melted into a creamy, salty, tangy puddle. It's a neat trick, so I'm sharing it here in this version of "couscous with stuff on top." It's a pile of warm couscous atop a smear of creamy goat cheese that gets topped with caponata.

In a twist, this version of the Sicilian eggplant dish is made on a sheet pan in the oven, so you don't have to bother with any deep- or pan-frying. It's also how the Italian restaurant I worked at made it, with tomato paste and cinnamon for depth, sherry vinegar for brightness and raisins and brown sugar for balance. It's great on top of the couscous and with the melty goat cheese, but it's also a great way to turn a late-summer bounty into dinner.

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