- Food: Homemade Caponata
- Writer: Lizzie Green
- Content-Type: Food Blog
Let’s make caponata from scratch! This traditional Sicilian appetizer or side dish is ideal for late-summer dinners.
This dish mixes sautéed bell pepper, celery, tomatoes, olives, and capers with roasted (not fried) eggplant. It’s tart and sweet, thanks to red wine vinegar and honey.
You’ll appreciate caponata if you like these robust flavors in general.
Because overseas travel is out of the question for me, I’ve been living vicariously through my meals. This caponata is a great example of how to do it.
I’ve yet to visit Sicily to try true caponata but learning to prepare it has piqued my interest in visiting the island. I’ll get there someday, believe me.
Caponata recipes differ from one location to the next and from one family to the next. This is how I ended up with this recipe.
My ratatouille recipe, which also includes roasted eggplant blended into a boiling tomato sauce, served as a model for this dish.
The intense agrodolce element, or the interplay between sweet (honey and raisins) and sour (tomatoes), makes caponata’s flavors even richer and more nuanced (vinegar and capers).
I can’t guarantee that this dish is 100% accurate, but I hope it gives you a flavor of Sicily.
How to Serve it?
Caponata is a delicious and adaptable dish that may be served as an appetizer, side dish, or light supper. It was traditionally served with fish or meat dishes.
Caponata has robust, vibrant flavors that go nicely with grilled entrées and late-summer feasts, and it travels well.
Caponata is a terrific recipe to prepare ahead of time. Allow for at least a couple of hours, if not a full day, in the fridge to allow the flavors to combine.
Caponata is best served warm or at room temperature, but some people prefer it cold. If you’d like to save a flavor of late summer, I suppose caponata would freeze well. Bottom line: do whatever you want!
A Quick History of Caponata
For reference, Sicily is the Mediterranean Sea’s largest island, located just south of Italy. Sicily has been invaded by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans (French), and Spaniards for many years. Sicilian food bears the imprint of each civilization.
In my investigation, I discovered that caponata is as varied as Sicily’s history. Caponata got its sweet-and-sour (agrodolce) flavor from the Arabs, olives from the Greeks, and tomatoes from Italy (or Spanish aristocrats?).
The recipe appears to be influenced by both Spanish (pisto manchego) and French (ratatouille) vegetable dishes. Even the origins of the name caponata are a source of contention.
How to make Caponata?
The whole recipe may be seen below, but here’s the gist:
- The eggplant should be roasted. Caponata is traditionally made with fried eggplant. Because eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge, I lightened this recipe dramatically by roasting the eggplant in a few tablespoons of oil instead. Roasted eggplant is golden and caramelized, making it perfect for caponata. There’s no need to salt the eggplant ahead of time.
- Prepare the onion, celery, and bell pepper and sauté them together. We’ll have time to chop these vegetables and get them started because the eggplant will take around 30 minutes in the oven.
- Add the garlic, then the smashed tomatoes. Before adding the tomatoes, we’ll sauté the garlic just long enough to bring out its flavor.
- Add in the olives, raisins, vinegar, capers, honey, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf after that. This is a lot to add all at once, so combine everything in a bowl ahead of time to save time.
- Add the roasted eggplant and a handful of fresh herbs and mix well. We’re almost done! You can now experiment with the flavors to create the perfect caponata. Allow the caponata to chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before serving if you have the time. However, I enjoy it much more when it is freshly prepared.
|Time to Prepare: 20 minutes
Time to cook: 40 minutes
1-hour total time
Serving: 6 servings
This recipe will teach you how to create homemade caponata. This Sicilian appetizer or side dish has a strong flavor profile and is ideal for late-summer gatherings. This recipe serves around 6 people as a side dish.
- 1 large or 2 smallish eggplants (about 1 ¾ pound), cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ teaspoon fine salt, divided, to taste
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 can (14 ounces) of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
- ¼ cup pitted green olives (ideally Castelvetrano), roughly chopped
- ¼ cup raisins, red or golden
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar, to taste
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon honey or sugar, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint, flat-leaf parsley, and/or basil
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). To keep the eggplant from sticking to a big, rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper.
- Place the diced eggplant in the pan that has been prepared. Sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons olive oil, then toss to coat (some of the eggplant pieces will be more saturated with oil than others, which is fine). Roast the eggplant for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring halfway through, until golden brown.
- Meanwhile, in a medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, warm the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Combine the onion, bell pepper, and celery in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 14 teaspoon salt and 10 twists of black pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are soft and starting to turn brown, about 9 to 12 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes until everything is well combined. Combine the olives, raisins, vinegar, capers, honey, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf in a large mixing bowl. To blend, stir everything together. Simmer for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring periodically.
Remove the bay leaf and toss it out. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes after adding the roasted eggplant.
- Reserving a small handful of fresh herbs for garnish, stir in the majority of the fresh herbs. Turn off the heat in the pot.
- To find the right mix of tangy-sweet-spicy-salty, adjust to taste. Add extra vinegar (by the tablespoon), honey (by the teaspoon), red pepper flakes (at least 1/4 teaspoon, but I enjoy heat), and/or salt (by the pinch) (for more overall flavor). Place it in a serving basin and sprinkle the remaining herbs on top.
- Allow the caponata to rest at room temperature for an hour before serving, or refrigerate for longer. Serve with crostini if desired, warm or at room temperature (some even prefer it refrigerated). Caponata will keep in the fridge for about 5 days if covered. I’m sure it’d keep for a long time in the freezer.
- CHANGE IT UP NOTES: Aside from the eggplant and tomatoes, the vegetables in this dish are adaptable; you could add more bell pepper or leave it out entirely. You might add carrots, zucchini, or yellow squash to the mix. Leave the raisins out if you don’t like them. In any case, they aren’t required in all caponata recipes. Another regional variant is to put pine nuts on top of the dish.
- TO MAKE IT VEGAN, replace the honey with sugar.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: As long as you serve it with gluten-free sides, this recipe is gluten-free.