Pickled Eggplant under Oil – Melanzane Sott’Olio

It’s funny the things that make you nostalgic.

It’s sticky hot here in Milan, and for the first time I won’t be going back to California for the summer. This time four years ago, I had already left California for Italy, and I made a pit stop in Spain since I had never been there. I planned my move here very badly, which is, hardly at all. I packed one (big) backpack and just flew away.

This snippet from my first post* after landing in Barcelona illustrates my lack of preparation beautifully: *I made posts from my first two years here private since they were written in a completely different way and before they really called it a “blog”

I haven’t been in Barcelona more than 3 hours and I’ve had a few adventures so far. I guess when you don’t plan…for anything…the unexpected happens. Barcelona airport is very confusing and when I was going to get my bags, I apparently didn’t see where I was going and ended up past customs outside with everyone else…and without my bag!! Now, if this was America, I would probably have been arrested trying to go back inside with a used boarding pass. Fortunately, the Spaniards were very friendly, if not pitying my stupidity, and let me back into the terminal to get my bag. It was going by just as I walked up. :)

I can’t fathom how that happened in the first place, but has anyone ever left the airport without even checking for their baggage? You’d think after my post about How to Avoid a Pickpocket I would be an extra careful person, but I have my moments. Arriving in a foreign country alone to live, maybe forever, with no one to meet me, no direction, no plan, no reservations beyond my first two nights…seemed like as good a time as ever to leave an airport without my bag.

I arrived at my final destination, Milan, directly after visiting Spain and spent a month or two pretty much alone – yes, that hot summer in 2003 when many people died in Europe, and I had a lot of time to reflect. I got used to dining and cooking for one.

I don’t think I could have predicted that I would be almost in the same place four years later, having moved several times around Italy, met and fell in love, got married, and came back to where it all started. Milan.

Melanzane sott’olio (pickled eggplant under oil) is what I associate with these hot summer nights in Italy. The heat from your sunburn mingles with the humidity, your skin is tight and sweaty at the same time. You’d take another shower but it would be the third that day and you’re not sure it’s helping anyway. You have an appointment in a few hours out with friends, and in the meantime, you avoid looking in the direction of your stove as you refuse to turn it on and add to the temperature inside. Instead, you pull out a few jars of melanzane sott’olio, some tomatoes, cold cuts and big slices of Pugliese bread and make tonight’s dinner: some fancy slices of pane e pomodoro.

Melanzane Sott’Olio della Suocera

This recipe, originating from my mother-in-law, is infinitely scalable, so though I am giving some measurements, remember that you can do it for as many eggplants as you have!

2 large eggplants
Wine vinegar (white or red)
Spices (oregano, crushed hot pepper, sage, parsley, etc.)

  1. Cut the ends off the eggplant and slice very thinly (peel if desired). I prefer rounds but many prefer to slice a big one lengthwise. If you have a mandoline, this would be a perfect time to use it! Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Put a weight on the slices to press down. I use a plate and a kilo or two of sugar/flour.
  2. Leave them overnight like this, or several hours during the day. Remove excess salt and squeeze them dry.
  3. In a large saucepan, bring a mixture of 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar to a boil. *NB: You only need a couple of inches of liquid since you’re going to be boiling in batches. You can also use 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 vinegar if you don’t have that much on hand. Include a few cloves of garlic in the water if desired.
  4. Cook batches of eggplant slices for about two minutes each, remove from the mixture and set aside. You can either leave to dry on an absorbent towel for 30 minutes or squeeze excess moisture from the slices directly.
  5. Use the best quality oil you can find, and begin to layer the oil and eggplants in clean jars with your selection of spices. I use some oregano and hot pepper flakes.

Pickled Eggplant under Oil - Melanzane Sott'Olio

Important note: When I wrote about How to Make Hot Pepper Chili Oil, I mentioned botulism as a threat – in our house, we almost always eat the eggplant within the next two weeks (or sometimes immediately) so it’s not as much of a problem. Make sure you follow proper precautions.

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  1. says

    This sounds like the perfect thing to have around the house! Not just for those meals when you can’t bring yourself to cook but also as a snazzy appetizer for last minute guests! :)

  2. says

    Gorgeous! I love the story about your move. Ah, yes, remember those days, do I ever!!! (Necessary of course for building your expat “armor,” but I sure don’t miss them, don’t miss them at all!)

    I want to make the hot pepper oil, as we put pepperoncino on everything here. I got Ale to add pepperoncino to his pasta all’uovo last time (per your great idea) and it was delicious as always. In fact, he made your exact recipe (the burrata). Teaching a Roman new tricks… brava!

  3. says

    What a cute story! I love how each person has a different way of arriving here as an expat. It does go beyond “married to an Italian”. Your summer 03 seems to have been really adventurous!

  4. Giulia says

    I always keep a jar or two of melanzane sott’olio in my pantry because they are great to add on paninos. I’ve always thought about making my own but never knew how. Now that you have posted the recipe, I think I will give it a try. It works out great because I have people giving me eggplant all the time. This way I don’t have to worry about letting it go to waste if we can’t eat them fast enough. :)

  5. says

    That looks so refreshing! I never knew how to make that either, but now I most certainly will. That is my next hot summer day meal. Thanks!

  6. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @joey – you’re absolutely right, it’s great to have around. I can easily plow through a jar!
    @Shelley – you’ll swell my head up! It came out good?
    @jessica – yes, we all have very different stories! Yours is very interesting, too!
    @giulia / Jeni – as I’m looking at this, I think I need to make some more myself. Let me know how your experiments go!
    @nyc – some day, we’ll have this together!
    @garlicy – love your blog name! Let me know how it goes for you.

  7. says

    Oh, be still my heart! What a gorgeous picture–and the eggplant must taste wonderful. I will make this!

    Great blog, by the way!

  8. says

    I just had melanzane sott’olio for the first time last weekend. Mamma mia! So yummy… I was wondering how to make it and, voila, your post has come to my rescue! Grazie mille. :)

  9. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Novelist – you disappeared for a while!
    @sher – welcome! I love eggplant, I’ll probably be talking more about it :)
    @mental mosaic – let me know how it comes out!

  10. pat says

    I am Irish and German, but my German grandmother’s best friend next door-Sisician–taught me to make wonderful things! I always loved–but divorees make us lose the recipe–the eggplant in olive oil that we put up for sandwiches–or even –like chocolate–you just scarf it up from the jar. I’m happy to have access to this again. I’m 61 now and I was 22 then…
    I am horrified that this generation will not eat home-canned things. I call them the hand-sanitizer generation.
    Even now that my children are grown, they think I let them play in dirt because I just didn’t care… I canned things! They ate them, and now they are horrified. It’s the hand-sanitizing generation!!

    I will stop ranting and only weep quietly, but thank you for this recipe, which I will make–again and again.

    Please be well and happy in this new year–I believe God loves people–especially–if they understand eggplant.

    Patricia Bindert

  11. Marilyn says

    those wonderful flavors are a favorite memory of my childhood and I am thrilled to have the recipe——–thank you so much!!!!!! Along with another favorite, caponata,I am able to get my eggplant fix and stay within a sensible diet.

  12. NANCY HUM says

    Pickled Eggplant under Oil – Melanzane Sott’Olio this is a wonderful recipe. It is just like my grandmas, who was born in italy. Thank you sooo much for this. I have been looking for this REAL Italian recipe for a long time. I made these eggplant and —WOW! Love ya

  13. says

    Thank you so very much for your recipe……My mom used to make them every year and it is one of “our” most cherished memories of her and my dad….Saturday lunch was always Italian cold cuts, sliced tomatoe (from their garden) with olive oil , fresh basil and salt,fresh Italian bread and of course Pauline’s eggplant mmmmmmmmmm. when my mom passed away two years ago my two sisters and I tried to recall the recipe (she never wrote any of that down) but I wanted to make sure we didn’t leave anything out…….you know what…..your recipe is exactly the way we remember except for the peeling of the skin and slicing into strips. My question to you is can I use my mom’s cherished ball jars with the glass lids and metal clap if I buy new rubbers to go between the lid and the jar? My mom would jar eggplants and have them all year long. Please let me know ….thanks….how nostalgic. My kids , grand kids and great grandson will be so surprised when grandma Jo
    puts these delicious eggplants on the table.

  14. Larry Champagne says

    I am from Ottawa, Canada, and as in many major cities we had a “Little Italy” part of town. I would venture into my favourite Italian cafe…the kind where the men were slamming their fists on the tables as they played cards and the aroma of freshly brewed espresso permiated the air. Many times I would have a sandwich with the eggplant in oil on the side of the plate…alternating between a bite of sandwich and eggplant….I was craving this taste again and found your site. I can’t wait to make it! I’m living in the Ukraine now, so this will be a “cultural shock” to my wife….Thanks for sharing!! Ciao

  15. says

    Thank you for the recipe.
    I can definitely relate with your travels and “homesickness.”
    I am Mexican, lived in the US for 5 years and I just arrived to the Netherlands.
    At my last farewell an Argentinian friend made some delicious pickled eggplant immersed in olive oil I fell in loved with it and I have been looking for the recipe ever since. I believe I found it, I can’t wait to try your recipe! THKS for sharing

  16. Eric says

    Hello and thank you for the recipe. My Nonna used to make this back in NY and it was such a treat with Italian bread, maybe some roasted peppers, usually with a wafer thin slice of proscuitto on top. Anyway, this childhood memory had been pushed to the back of my mind, and it was only on a visit to a small Italian town in the autumn of 2007 that brought back how much I miss it. It turned up on an antipasti plate, and the memories came flooding back. I brought back a few jars with me, but now they’ve run out, despite being 3000 miles closer to Italy (in England vs NY), it’s not easy to find here, and I always wanted to try to make it, so googled it and your blog came up. I will try it as soon as the eggplant available is decent again. Your story is also inspiring, and I’m going to have to look at my dream of moving to Italy again.

  17. Don says

    My grandfather made the eggplant in a large crock about two gal. he layered the eggplant with hot Hungarian peppers garlic oregano thyme and basil poured olive oil and warm salted vinegar at the top had a large wooden disc for a cover to keep the eggplant submerged and a large rock to weigh it down two months later we would start picking at what a great sandwich with warm bread. Loved the hot peppers on Fava beans.

  18. Teresa Phillips says

    Thank you so much, I have been looking for this receipe for a long time. Had it as a child when my Aunt used to make it, then mother made it. My sister and I would scarf the whole jar down at a sitting. Then Mom died and the receipe went with her. My Dad is still alive (Scilian) and he called me to tell me that he made pickled eggplant. I tasted his, it was good, but not like I remembered it. So I planted eggplant and found your website. Thank you, hope to find more receipes here too.

  19. Joe says

    Have been “experimenting” with Pickled eggplant for a while now. Your recipe will be a great help. By the way, haven’t seen the NB (nota bene)since grammer school at St. Joseph’s School. Thanks, it took me back to happy times!!!

  20. Charlene says

    Thank you for this recipe. Pickled eggplant under oil is readily available here in Winnipeg (we have lots of Italian grocers) but it’s expensive! This makes better pickled eggplant than even the best grocery at less than half the price. Thanks!

  21. Liliana DiPerna-Cohen says

    These eggplants should be the baby ones, the large ones have a lot of seeds. Also they should be peeled and cut mushroom style not sliced them.
    With delicious olive oil, a little garlic, a little oregano ed un poco di peperoncino.
    Make sure they are always covered with oil.
    With a little Italian bread..che delizia!! Liliana

  22. snowmoonelk says

    ERIC – I live in Wales and Lidl sell aubergine (eggplant) in oil in jars…they also sell an assortment of antipasti such as artichokes in oil, mushrooms in oil, courgettes in oil and of course, sundried tomatoes in oil. YAY!!!!

  23. snowmoonelk says

    Liliana, I don not understand when you say this:-

    “Also they should be peeled and cut mushroom style not sliced them.”

    How do you cut something “mushroom style”, please?

  24. Mickey says

    Your pickeling method matches my Italian family’s exactly! We also add chopped celery and sliced green olives (with the red pimento). Flavors, texture and color are wonderful. Favorite way to eat it is with salami or prosciutto, tomatoes and crusty bread. A little fresh ricotta is always a nice addition. Ah, memories oft childhood…

  25. Mark says

    I was wondering if this will process well in a canner or a hot water bath. My Russian wife & I put up lots of fresh in summer & fall and this would be a perfect addition.

  26. allgrace says

    I feel like I’ve stuck gold!!! been looking for this recipe!!! my friend’s Mom makes this…and I’ve never really gotten the recipe from her(trust me I’ve asked!!)
    ha HA!!! I ‘m so happy :) THANKS A MILLION!!!!

  27. maritina says

    Hi Sara,
    i wish you could help me in finding a pickled eggplant recipe wich is pickled and canned without oil. I have several friends from Italy (by the way, I´m spanish), whose mothers make this kind of recipe but they actually don´t know how it is made. they just take the jars and enjoy them. Now I´m starting to think it´s quite a secret old south italian recipe because i can´t find it anywhere in internet.
    do someone know about it?

  28. says

    Ok. So. My Jewish mother learned to make this from my Sicilian Nonna (di Camporeale). The ratio was 1:3 vinegar to water, but I love that we can go halvsies! I might be less measured next time. We always put the layers in a Corningware dish and set it on the counter where it would remain for weeks on end (big batches) and we were never concerned about botulism. Should we be??? Yikes! I now chop the garlic in a Ninja blender (thanks to modern technology) and never buy that old looking already-chopped stuff in a jar. Blech. We also peeled the slices, but I want to try leaving the peel on just to try it. The trick of course, is to avoid boiling too long or the slices fall apart. Not enough, and they come out tough.

  29. says

    That definitely happened to me at CDG (I think in terminal 2F) when I lived in Paris and was coming back from N. Africa. It was definitely a confusing layout and I freaked out but the security guys smiled and let me back in w/ my ticket once I realized my silly mistake.
    Delicious eggplant recipe by the way- makes me want to go back to Sicily!

  30. says

    These melanzane sott’olio are actually a Southern Italian and Sicilian delicacy. In Northern Italy they do not make them or seem to like them either.Are they crazy up there ?They consider them peseant food from the Terroni-down south.They have got to be kidding.All they eat is polenta and mushy rice in Northern Italy and are a bunch of arrogant snobs !

  31. laughbelly says

    Hi, my husband has a vegetable garden between vineyard rows, yes we grow grapes and make wine, both organically. We love good, clean, fresh farmed foods. Our eggplants are now producing nicely so I can make this simple elegant recipe of yours. Thank you for sharing. Incidently, one of your sponsors Odwalla has donated money to support GMO foods. Italy has banned GMO foods, not yet in the US!

  32. Diana Pencheva says

    I may not wait to get an answer soon enough but I am thinking of putting a teaspoon of lemon juice instead of wine vinegar in the water . Anyway I can report the result to you in a few days.

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