Caponata is a wonderful antipasti dish from the Italian island of Sicily featuring fried aubergine (eggplant), chunky onion, pepper, celery, tomato sauce with a touch of brine and a bit of sweet. The island boasts various medleys featuring garden fresh veg, pine nuts, olives, capers, and /or raisins depending on the region.
This recipe tastes best once the flavors have had time to sit and marinate, ideal for meal prep & stress-free dinner parties. In addition, it is veg-centric and vegan friendly making it an economical dish as well.
Sicilian caponata may be served warm or cold, atop crusty bread, and often seen accompanying grilled swordfish as a relish. A light summer meal when dished cold, and a cozy meal for winter when warmed. In Italy, caponata is traditionally plated as an appetizer or a garnish, although I can happily fill my bowl and eat this recipe as my main dish (and go back for seconds). There are close similarities to how I serve my Hungarian Lecsó as well.
Since Sicily is steeped in tradition, I have given into the kitchen folklore about salting eggplant first. The notion behind this technique is to cut the bitterness. The bitter characteristic of eggplant varietals has been bred out these days, although you can get the rare older eggplant that may have a bit of a bite. So, why bother salting? In this caponata recipe, the salting helps reduce the amount of oil absorbed when frying, leaving you with light creamy eggplant nuggets. And when it comes down to time, what’s the difference in an hour of salted resting, when the Caponata tastes better the second day?
- Olive oil
- 2 large eggplants cubed
- 1 red onion large dice
- 1 red pepper large dice
- 2 celery stalks large dice
- A few cloves of garlic minced
- 5 large tomatoes small dice
- roughly 20 olives pitted
- 1/3 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
- 1 tsp. sugar
- salt to taste
- Large frying pan
- Cube eggplant into large pieces with the skin on and toss thoroughly with table salt.
- Hang eggplant cubes in colander for roughly 1 hour allowing them to sweat.
- Rinse under cool water and pat dry.
- Heat olive oil in pan and gently fry the eggplant on all sides (watch out for spitting from any residual water).
- Remove from pan and let rest on a paper towel lined plate.
- In the same pan add olive oil if necessary and sauté onion, pepper, and celery until tender.
- Add garlic and heat for 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, vinegar, sugar, and olives and let simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low heat until the tomatoes are broken down.
- Fold the eggplant back into pan and let cook for another 10 minutes.
- Taste and season.
- Leave it alone. DO NOT EAT YET!
- Serve at room temp, but ideally make it ahead of time and give it a day or two, to marinate flavors. Will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge.
- Serve deliciousness with crusty bread, grilled fish or on top of pasta.
Traditional Caponata add-ins
- Toasted pine nuts
- Fried baby octopus