Eggplant Caponata Recipe

  • by Nonna Box November 7, 2018
  • |
  • Last Updated on June 15, 2022
Sicilian Caponata Eggplant Appetizer

What is Caponata?

Eggplant caponata is an Italian appetizer from Sicily made from eggplant and other fried vegetables served at room temperature.

Throughout Sicily, there are countless variations of Caponata. Some use octopus and seafood, other pine nuts and raisins.

Nonna’s recipe adds potatoes and bell peppers, which is what I grew up on and is my standard for a delicious Caponata.

My favorite way to eat it is by toasting some ciabatta bread slices and piling some Caponata on top of each slice. Like a crostini.

Why is it called caponata?

There are no proven theories on the etymology of the word caponata. However, some say that it could be related with the Iberian terms capirottata, capirotada or capironades .

It also has a close relationship to the Latin term “caupona”, which means tavern, meaning that it is the equivalent of “tavern food”.

Others claim that the sailors were the first to use this sweetish sauce to soften their hard pieces of bread called “cappone di galera.”

Still others say that this sweet and bitter dish was only consumed by Sicilian nobles. Who served it alongside the “capone” (mahi-mahi), a white fish with fine dry meat. While it was normal for the nobles to eat this dish, It was a luxury that most people were not able to afford. So, they replaced it with eggplant, adapting the dish to fit their economic situation.

The first official mention of the real eggplant caponata dates back to 1759 in a book printed in Messina. It was defined as a “dish made of various things”.

Eggplant Caponata Recipe

Variations of the Dish

Throughout Sicily, you can encounter close to 40 variations of caponata. However, they all have one thing in common: the sweet and sour dressing, which gives the vegetables a unique flavor.

Every city or town has its own particular interpretation. In Palermo, for example, the caponata does not include peppers.

Other variations include roasted eggplant instead of fried, green olives instead of black and other more modern versions even include balsamic vinegar.

Even within the same village there are different versions. Each one claimed to be the correct version, the only authentic one.

Though many different recipes exist and though they are each unique they have one thing in common. Each caponata recipe is treasured by every family and handed down from generation to generation.

While originally it was a complete meal served with bread, today caponata is generally enjoyed as an appetizer or a side dish and must be eaten at room temperature.

Other appetizer recipes you may like:

Sicilian Caponata Eggplant Appetizer

Sicilian Caponata Recipe

This version is all vegetables and the flavors are bursting with each bite. It is a great appetizer to have with a glass of Sicilian Corvo Rosso wine that your guests will thoroughly enjoy.
4.55 from 35 votes
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Course: Appetizer
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 149kcal
Author: Nonna Box

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons (73.93 g) extra virgin olive oil (for each vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 pound (680.39 g) eggplant unpeeled, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 (1 ) large onion diced
  • 1 teaspoon (4.93 g) salt for each batch of vegetables
  • 1 (1 ) green bell pepper small. 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 (1 ) red bell pepper small. 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 (2 ) yukon gold potatoes medium. diced
  • 1/2 cup (67.5 g) gaeta black olives (or kalamata olives)
  • 3 (3 ) celery stalks 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 14 1/2 ounce can (439.42 g) tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup (79.67 g) red wine vinegar or white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (29.57 g) capers rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp (66.67 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (12 g) fresh basil chopped
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and put in a colander over a bowl for 20-30 minutes. Rinse with water and transfer the eggplant to a large clean towel and pat dry with paper towel.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the extra virgin olive oil, toss the potatoes and cook them until golden brown stirring occasionally.
  • Once the potatoes are ready, transfer them to a medium bowl lined with layers of paper towel and set aside. Discard the oil and clean the pan.
  • In the same skillet add another 5 tablespoons of olive oil and start frying the bell peppers until soft. Transfer to the bowl with the potatoes and set aside. Discard the oil and clean the pan.
  • In the same skillet add another 5 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the eggplant. Watch it while it cooks, as it may need more oil. When it's soft, transfer the cooked eggplant to the bowl with the other vegetables and set aside. Discard the oil and clean the pan.
  • Return skillet to heat, add olive oil, onions and celery and cook, stirring continuously to allow caramelization for 10 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium, add tomato sauce and continue cooking for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in olives, vinegar, capers, sugar and all the fried vegetables and mix together. Cook slowly for a couple of minutes while mixing gently.
  • Turn off the heat, add the chopped basil and mix and let it cool at room temperature.
  • Serve with a piece of toasted bread of your choice.
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Recipe Notes

  • You can replace the sauce can with 400 gr of ripe plum tomatoes or canned tomato, although fresh tomatoes are better. Some recipes use a combination of tomato paste and water.
  • Remove the potato and add 1 tbsp of pine nuts and 1 tbsp of raisins (regular or golden raisins) for another famous version of eggplant caponata recipe.
  • Garlic and carrots are not in the ingredients of the traditional caponata recipe.

How to store caponata

You can store caponata in the fridge for up to 3 days in a covered glass or plastic container. Before serving, bring it back to room temperature by keeping it out of the fridge for a couple of hours.

A Little Bit of History of Caponata

Greeks, Normans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Spaniards and the French dominated Sicily over the centuries. They gradually influenced and enriched the local cuisine.

If you add to this mix of cultures the products of the sea, you can easily guess the reason for its unique cuisine.

It is this context that makes Caponata one of the most representative dishes of Sicilian cuisine.

The main ingredient is the Italian eggplant, a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family. It is often called “bad apple” because of the solanine which gives it the typical bitter and acidic taste.

Its origins are not yet well known. It seems, however, that this vegetable hails from the hot areas of South Asia, perhaps from eastern India and China.

Greeks and Romans weren’t familiar with eggplant until the Arabs brought it to Sicily from North Africa. They introduced it after the conquest of the island starting in 827. It slowly became an important ingredient in Sicilian cuisine and is used in many recipes.

Another essential ingredient of the Caponata is the tomato. Christopher Colombus brought it to Europe from the Americas a few centuries later.

To complete the list of the ingredients we find onions, olives, capers, celery, vinegar and sugar. Although celery was initially used only for ornamental purposes.

The agro-sweet seasoning is the fundamental element that characterizes the caponata, and again we owe it to the Arabs.

In fact, this peculiar seasoning had been central to Arab cuisine since ancient times. It landed in Sicily again thanks to the Arabs who enjoyed the contrast between spicy and sweet.

7 Responses to “Eggplant Caponata Recipe”

  1. Joanna says:

    Yummy delicious! What types of capers can be used?

    • Nonna Box says:

      Hi Joanna! You can use any capers you can find in the grocery store. For this recipe we used salted Sicilian capers, but any would work really.

  2. Jenny says:

    Really enjoyed the caponata facts and history. Thank you!

  3. Melanie says:

    This recipe would have been fabulous had there not been so much sugar. I knew better but followed recipe. I’m going to try again with just one tablespoon and I think it will be fabulous!

  4. Kathy says:

    Carrots are not on ingredients list. How many? Chopped or grated? Surprised there is no garlic. Is that typical for Cabonata?

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