A midsummer nightshade recipe


A midsummer nightshade recipe

As she begins to appreciate the ripening fruit of middle age and takes her first steps towards a curated creative life, ALETTA LINTVELT uses a different sort of fruit — aubergine — to concoct a delicious caponata.


I’VE been pondering the art of living a creative life. Not creative like a painfully self-absorbed artist, who like a teenager trapped in front of a mirror is too vain and too shy to enjoy life.

No. Creative like a whole life that is intentionally composed between the urgent demands of caring for others and self and making a path of your own outside the expectations and needs of others.

The creative project of one’s own life — not in terms of what one produces but in how one lives — calls to me more and more.

This summer I fell into Deborah Levy’s writing and have now devoured nearly her entire oeuvre. Perhaps l’m a caterpillar, knowing the relentless feeding will culiminate in some sort of miraculous transformation. At 50, after a divorce and the demise of the family home she spent her creative life force building, Levy starts over and acquires an e-bike and her voice as an author.

I google e-bikes. I wonder if I’m brave enough to saddle up. Considering I broke my leg in two places 1.5m from my front door last year, perhaps not. Instead I sell my car and force myself to walk everywhere. I’m amazed by how many things change when you change one thing.

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I’ve been finding myself looking for flashes and fragments of the type of life I intend to curate for myself.

I think about about Michelangelo, who famously said he simply frees the sculpture from the rock. The sculpture already exists, all he does is remove what is not neccessary. Perhaps some metaphor can be drawn for our own lives.

Maybe when you remove enough of the debris of others' expectations, social norms and culture, you can set an angel free. An impossibly perfect and luminous angel, perpetually stuck in granite.

Outside the window the starlings are fighting over the last of the purple figs on my tree. Such honest thieves. Unlike the thieves of joy who silently steal your creative life force. I won’t list them. You know them. They taste like comparison and smell like despair.

There is something terrifying and wonderful about the ripening of the body of a woman in middle-age. You thought the best of you is over: this loosening of skin and falling of hair and fire of a mood is surely a death rattle to some final descent. But then. Behold.

You realise those were just your flowers. And now you are in that passage when the blossoms have shrivelled, the edges are browning and every day you see the breeze carrying every trace of their existence away.

As the heat of summer starts to build, lumps and bumps swell in the places you once had flowers. And you realise. Good heavens. I mistook myself for a cut flower, instead I am a fruiting tree.

Every morning there is more ripening fruit. Your life whispers to you: what shall I make of this?



There are many ways to make this condiment but I prefer Maggie Beer’s method of preparing the ingredients separately, which ensures their identity and texture are retained. I also learned the chocolate trick from her, mostly because it is as good an excuse as any to procure my favourite bitterly dark delight. It also gives the condiment an earthy, rich character. You can leave that or any of the ingredients you don’t love out — except the aubergine, which is the heart of the dish.


  • 1 shallot (or small red onion)
  • 1 celery stalk & leaves (optional)
  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 8 green olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • handful of fresh basil
  • ⅓ cup red wine or sherry vinegar
  • 5g grated dark chocolate (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablepoons golden sultanans (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or almond slivers, toasted
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper


1. A word about chopping. For this recipe you should be intentional in how you chop the ingredients. For the whole to exceed the sum of its parts, the size of the various elements must be in balance. I’m giving a guide here so you can get a sense of proportions.

  • Onion and celery — 5mm x 5mm
  • Aubergine and tomato — 20mm x 20 mm
  • Olives — pitted and quartered
  • Basil — shredded

2. In a splash of olive oil, saute the onion, celery and black pepper until the onion is glassy and the celery retains a crunch but is not raw.

3. Stir through the sugar, followed a minute later by the vinegar and give it a vigorous stir. Once the pan liquid has emulsified and is syrupy, empty the contents of the pan into a bowl. Make sure all the syrup is retained.

4. Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil and once hot, fry the aubergine in batches till golden on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside. Season with salt as you go. Take your time with this step and don’t overcrowd the pan or it will all turn into a pale mush. Scoop the cooked aubergine into a bowl.

5. Add the tomato to the pan and once it starts to soften add the olives, capers and the rest of the cooked ingredients plus the chocolate. Remove from the heat.

6. Stir through the sultanas, nuts and basil. Taste and season to taste with more salt and black pepper. Eat immediately.

7. Or scoop into a glass jar, cover with a thin layer of olive oil, store in the fridge and eat within two weeks.

How to eat:

1. Spoon warm over pan-fried or braaied fish. An instant classic. I especially love it on seared tuna but that is a mega-treat.

2. Serve alongside room-temperature mature cheddar and good bread for an al fresco lunch with cold meat.

3. Cook gnocchi or penne pasta and spoon caponata on top, finishing with parmesaan shavings.

4. Dollop a generous amount on a baked sweet potato.

5. Mix tinned chickpeas or cannelini beans through an equal amount of caponata for the perfect quick lunch.

6. Serve as a side dish with grilled lamb chops. Perfection.

7. Pan-fry meatballs in an ovenproof skillet until browned and semi-cooked. Drain the fat. Spoon a generous quantity of caponata into the skillet with the meatballs and heat through on the stove top or finish in a hot oven. Serve with crusty bread. This one is a winner.

♦ VWB ♦

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