Meet Caponata – Sicily’s sweet & tangy cousin to France’s ratatouille. They are kinda similar, though the Sicilian one has loads of more flavor punch.
Eggplant is cooked with fresh summer veggies along with sweet raisins and honey, briny capers and olives and tangy vinegar. Result = an explosion of so many pleasant flavors in one single dish. Why not turn that humble eggplant into some divine addiction?
With summer coming in, we are blessed to put our hands on the freshest of fresh produce that deserves some delicious ending. This eggplant dish is just perfect for something just like that.
What is Caponata?
Caponata is a very traditional and popular dish from Sicily. This dish comes in various forms and versions from household to household. It’s like a relish made with eggplant, onions, bell peppers, celery and tomatoes with add-ins like olives and capers.
Most caponatas call for a drizzle of vinegar and some like raisins with a dash of honey or sugar. The combination of sweet and sour ingredients creates agrodolce, a traditional condiment of Italian cuisine.
Agrodolce is made by simmering sweet and sour ingredients together. Balance is essential to achieve the best agrodolce flavor.
In caponata, sweetness comes from the raisins and a bit of sugar or honey and sourness from vinegar and olives. The capers add a touch of brininess.
Caponata dates back a few centuries in the Sicilian region. Over many centuries, Sicily was invaded by many foreign cultures like the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French and Spaniards. Over time Sicilian cuisine has evolved with influences from all of them.
Caponata might be just one such example. It has sweet and tangy flavors from the Middle East, tomatoes from Italy or Spain and olives from Greece.
Caponata, as said earlier, has a strong resemblance to ratatouille of France or pisto from Spain. Though both ratatouille and pisto are more like a stew, while caponata tends to be more like an appetizer or relish.
This eggplant dish is a tad bit better the next day, as the flavors intensify if it rests overnight in your refrigerator. After resting, the texture of caponata will be thick, rich and creamy, like that of a chutney. The flavors keeps getting better as it ages, and you can easily keep caponata refrigerated for 4-5 days. Great make-ahead friendly dish.
This is what you need for Caponata
- Eggplant – I am using a large globe eggplant, which is commonly available in all grocery stores. But you can make it with any large to medium sized eggplants.
- More Veggies – Onions, red bell pepper, celery.
- Tomatoes – I am using canned fire roasted tomatoes but you can use any other canned tomatoes or some great Italian tomato sauce or even fresh ripe tomatoes.
- Red wine vinegar
- Red chili flakes
- Fresh herbs – Today I am using parsley but you can also use mint or basil. Each will give a distinctive end result.
- Salt and pepper
How to make Caponata
Traditionally, caponata is cooked by frying the eggplant cubes in olive oil. Eggplants are like sponges and soak up loads of oil when frying or sautéing. Apparently Sicilians don’t shy away from a lot of olive oil. I wanted to cook caponata the most traditional way for the first time so don’t mind the oil.
You can also opt for roasting it in your oven. Just place the cubes on parchment pepper, drizzle on some olive oil and bake at 400°F for 25-30 minutes, or until fully cooked and tender.
To make it the traditional way, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté the eggplant till brown and soft.
Plate the eggplant out on a paper towel lined dish.
In the same pan, discard excess olive oil (though eggplants absorb a lot of oil in the beginning, towards the end when they are fried, a lot of it leeches out). Keep about 2-3 Tbsp in the pan and sauté chopped onion till it becomes slightly brown in color.
Add in garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add in chopped bell peppers along with celery and cook for a couple more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add in tomatoes and mix everything well. Time to add in the olives, capers, raisins, red chili flakes, red wine vinegar and honey. Mix well and simmer for 10 minutes so all the flavors marry with each other.
Add in chopped herbs along with fried eggplant cubes. Mix well and let it cook for 5-6 minutes. It’s almost done. Taste and adjust. See if it’s cooked perfectly sweet and tangy to your liking. If not, adjust honey or vinegar accordingly.
Garnish it with a bit more chopped parsley. If you happen to have some pine nuts, they go very well as a garnishing too.
Caponata is extremely flavorful the next day but if you need to serve it on the same day, let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so before serving.
What to serve Caponata with
- Traditionally it’s served as an appetizer. So our first choice is over crostini or some great crusty bread. I can see pitas or crackers working great too.
- It’s excellent as a relish on top of meats like roasted or pan fried chicken or pork. Spoon it over pan fried salmon or some white fish. Ahmmm… divine.
- It goes great as an accompaniment to salads, wraps and sandwiches. It’ll add a ton of flavor to the final result.
- Fry some eggs and throw on some caponata and you have an excellent start of the day.
- Leftovers can be stirred into your pasta like penne or farfalle and you have caponata pasta. Easy meal Done!!
Caponata can be refrigerated very well for up to 5 days in an airtight container or jar. It can be frozen too, if made in bulk. Just thaw and reheat to enjoy this Sicilian favorite.
I know once you make your eggplant the Sicilian way you are going to come back to it again and again. It’s just way too delicious. Try making it both ways, frying your eggplant or roasting it. See which one suits you better.
With summer coming, parties and get-togethers are coming your way. Impress the crowd with this amazing appetizer and wait till everyone asks you for the recipe. Be sure to mention GypsyPlate and spread the love. Take care…
Caponata, in my Gypsy Bowl… enjoy!
Try these other easy and delicious appetizers from around the world!
Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spanish chickpeas with spinach)
Guasacaca (Venezuelan guacamole)
Shrimp de Jonghe
Chicken Chapli Kebabs
Spanish Garlic Shrimp
Moutabol (Eggplant Dip)
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large eggplant, cubed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced
- 1 15oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Salt to taste
- Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté eggplant cubes till soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Plate them out on a paper towel lined plate.
- In the same pan, discard excess oil leaving behind 2-3 Tbsp. Add onions and sauté till light brown in color. Add in garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.
- Add in chopped bell peppers along with celery and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in salt and pepper. Add in tomatoes and mix everything well.
- Mix in olives, capers, raisins, red chili flakes, red wine vinegar and honey. Simmer for 10 minutes
- Add in chopped parsley along with fried eggplant cubes. Mix well and let everything cook for 5-6 minutes.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with parsley.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 368Total Fat 31gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 25gCholesterol 0mgSodium 557mgCarbohydrates 25gFiber 6gSugar 14gProtein 3g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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