Spicy Eggplant Tomato Sauce

Ingedients for sauce
I have been making one version or another of this sauce since James and my early days together in “Dog Town,” a dilapidated neighborhood in Ellensburg, Washington, where we were both attending Central Washington University. We still make a yearly day trip to Ellensburg when the lilacs are blooming and are amazed that we once lived in that tiny, rundown house on the outskirts of town. Polenta and sauceHowever, that tiny house and gargantuan yard had 4 things that I LOVE: solitude, numerous huge lilac bushes, a large farmhouse-style kitchen with room for our red lacquered picnic table and a screen door that opened and then banged closed with precisely the same creaking sound as Grandma Maisie’s screen door in Kentucky. I regularly went out that back door just to hear the sound of it opening and closing.

Sometime in those happy first couple of years together, I discovered a cookbook that defined that period of our lives: The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. And even though I was teaching a 10-week course at the university on the art of French cooking (only a lesson or two ahead of my students), what I cooked for us at home were Anna’s simple, tasty, affordable dishes. We weren’t even vegetarians.
Four stages of onion olive dried tomato orange pepper yellow pepper eggplant sauceI am looking at that scruffy book now, held together only by yellowed tape. Almost every page is covered with my barely legible notes, such as “make triple batch for large blue casserole,” and “James’ favorite onion quiche.”
University Farmer's Market Eggplant 2The Eggplant Pasta Sauce on page 246 contains a couple of my early revisions. Today’s recipe barely resembles its predecessor, but the idea is the same: namely, a piquant tomato-olive-wine sauce with generous quantities of sweet peppers and eggplant.

This hearty, almost meaty, sauce is one of the first dishes I make each fall in the Northwest. In September, farmers markets are overflowing with eggplant, bell peppers, and ripe heirloom tomatoes. The colors and flavors are amazing together.
University Farmer's Market Eggplant 1Thank you, Anna Thomas, for the inspiration and for enriching our lives with your memorable dishes.Finished eggplant sauce

Spicy Eggplant Tomato Sauce

This chunky, flavor-packed, and highly addictive sauce is wonderful in the fall and winter over pasta or polenta, quickly sautéed whole button mushrooms, or steamed and buttered cauliflower florets.

Serving Note Use 1 quart of sauce for 1 pound of dried pasta or 1½ pounds of either vegetable. Top with 3 to 4 ounces of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Storing Note Any remaining sauce may be frozen for up to 3 months.

¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil, crumbled
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you want the sauce extra-spicy)

20 Calamata olives, pitted and sliced (about ½ cup)
20 green olives, pitted and sliced (about ½ cup)
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water to soften, drained, and then chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 large globe eggplant or 2-3 smaller Italian eggplants (1½ pounds), stemmed, then diced
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced (or orange or yellow bell peppers)

3 pounds cored, skinned, seeded, chopped, ripe heirloom tomatoes (or three 14 1/2 ounce cans diced tomatoes)
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
2 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped or torn
1 tablespoon fresh basil, torn
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil.
  2. Add, and then slowly sauté the onions with the dried basil, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper until softened but not brown, about 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic, and sauté for a few minutes more to meld the flavors.
  4. Add bell peppers and eggplant, and stir to coat with oil. Sauté briefly, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add tomatoes, red wine, vegetable broth, and tomato paste. Simmer very slowly for about 40-60 minutes, adding a little more stock if the sauce becomes too thick.
  6. Add fresh oregano and basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve hot over sautéed mushrooms, steamed cauliflower, sautéed polenta, or cooked pasta.
  8. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Makes 2 quarts sauce.


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  1. valerie laing says

    Fab recipe. Love the special memories too. Your vegetarian recipe book reminds me of one I bought by chance over 20 years ago and is also a vegetarian book with amazing recipes. Its called “Cooking From An Italian Garden” by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen. I wouldn’t part with it for anything although I’m not a vegetarian. It relocated with me to Scotland 15 years ago and have used it many times.

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks so much, Valerie! :-) I don’t know that book but I will try to locate a copy. Another avenue for great vegetarian recipes in Indian cookbooks. Now there are some cooks who know how to make vegetables exciting. Just grabbed Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni off the shelf and turned to Green Beans with Coconut and Black Mustard Seeds, then to Smoked Eggplant with Fresh Herbs, then to Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce. One of the things I love most about cooking is that the adventure will never end, not in this lifetime anyway. :-)

  2. says

    What a rich & very fab sauce!! I love all of the ingredients & I see aubergines!! They are in season now, here in Belgium & I so loooovvvvveeeee them!!

    .-= Sophie´s last blog ..Spiced Summer pumpkin, butternut squash & red bell peppers soup =-.

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks so much, Sophie! :-) I love eggplant/aubergine too. Such a beautiful color and that almost meaty, silky texture is so fun to work with.

  3. Jayne says

    My goodness! I’d forgotten about that cookbook- it’s been sitting on my shelf, neglected, for about 20 years now! It’s such a beautiful book: lovely writing and those wonderful line drawings of all those large, gentle, good-looking people enjoying their food and each other. . . I’ll have to get it out again and revisit. Than you!

    Love your blog- beautiful description of your first home. There’s always something special about those places.

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Jayne! You have the book? Fantastic! I have always been enchanted by those drawings and the life they depict. I’m almost afraid to cook any of those dishes today. :-)

  4. Chuck says

    I want to pull that dish through my computer and chow down. What a wonderful hearty dish. Love it!!!
    .-= Chuck´s last blog ..Harvest Squash Bread =-.

    • sms bradley says

      LOL! If only that were possible, eh? :-) I’m heading now to check out your Harvest Squash Bread. Love the sound of that…

  5. Melody says

    I love eggplant and olives and this recipe sounds so yummy. This would make a great party platter with some pita bread or chips.
    .-= Melody @ Party Cupcake Ideas´s last blog ..Minnie Mouse Disney Cupcakes =-.

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you Melody! :-) If you want to use the sauce as a dip, just cook it down a bit more than specified in the recipe. This concept is similar to a French ratatouille but the addition of wine and stock give it a more liquid consistency.


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