An authentic side dish hailing from Italy, this easy Sicilian caponata recipe is the perfect celebration of late summer eggplant. The key is finding the right balance of sweet and tangy flavors.
What is Caponata?
Although not the prettiest dish in the world, caponata is a combination of crispy fried eggplant, onions, celery, capers, and olives simmered to perfection in a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. One could call it an eggplant “salad” or “relish” but simply put: caponata is a unique and flavorful side dish best enjoyed with good bread.
Why This Recipe Works
There are several variations of caponata. Some recipes will include raisins, red bell peppers, fresh mint and other seasonal ingredients. They’re all delicious in their own right (although I prefer mine without the bell peppers- too overpowering!), but the eggplant will always be the star of the show. There are no substitutions!
Adapted with a few tweaks from David Lebovitz’s caponata recipe, here’s why I love this particular version:
- One pot cooking method for easy cleanup.
- Celery is sautéed with the onions (not parboiled separately).
- Can be made up to 1 week in advance or frozen.
- It tastes just like my dad’s caponata recipe (via my Sicilian grandmother) who didn’t write anything down!
How to Make it
To begin, the eggplant is cooked separately in batches. You can either deep fry it in olive oil or roast it for a healthier alternative. Either way, eggplant is like a sponge and it will absorb a good amount of oil no matter what. I’ve found that a shallow stove-top fry is a practical compromise while maintaining maximum flavor and easy clean up. It’s my preferred method every time.
After the eggplant is cooked, the onions and celery are sautéed in the same pan and simmered with chunky green olives, capers, tomato sauce, red wine vinegar and a bit of sugar until the flavors meld together. Then the fried eggplant joins the pan. The key to spectacular caponata is finding the right balance of sweet and tangy flavors, so taste and adjust with more vinegar or sugar as you go.
To finish, once the mixture is cool, I like to add fresh green herbs. Then, the caponata is chilled overnight to deepen the flavor. Caponata always tastes better the next day.
How to Serve Caponata
Caponata is delicious served warm or at room temperature with good bread or focaccia (recipe in my book!). It makes a great, rustic panzanella bread salad with soft hand-torn mozzarella and basil too. I love it with extra herbs and toasted pine nuts for crunch.
Caponata is one of those things you wouldn’t think to make at home unless you’ve tried it at a restaurant or were lucky enough to enjoy it Sicily yourself! But if you’re an eggplant fan, I highly recommend giving it a go especially when late summer produce from your favorite csa is at its peak. I promise, this recipe is a must try!Print
An authentic side dish hailing from Italy, this easy Sicilian caponata recipe is the perfect celebration of late summer eggplant. The key is finding the right balance of sweet and tangy flavors. Can be made up to 1 week in advance and/or frozen. Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.
- In a large, high sided skillet (or Dutch oven) warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add some of the eggplant (you will be cooking in batches), taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until light golden brown on all sides. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Repeat to cook the rest of the eggplant adding more olive oil as needed.
- In the same pan, sauté the onion and celery until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the olives, capers and tomato sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and the sugar. Add the eggplant. Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vinegar is needed. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of the pan.
- Cool to room temperature and stir in a handful of fresh, chopped green herbs. Chill overnight to depend the flavor.
Note: Caponata can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in the fridge. To freeze, portion into small, pint-size containers and store up to 3 months.
Keywords: Sicilian, easy, caponata, recipe, David Lebovitz, csa recipes, Italian, side dish, sourdough focaccia