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Tuesday
Sep112012

Sicilian Caponata

 

My farmer's market is just chock full of eggplant right now so it's the perfect time to make this dish from Sicily - Caponata.  It's an eggplant stew or relish that can be used in a variety of ways.  It does make a great vegetarian main dish, but it's mostly used a side dish, especially for fish.  I like to spread it on some good, crusty bread.  

Caponata has that Sicilian affinity for agrodolce - sweet and sour.  It is made with vinegar and sugar.  It is a flavor explosion but can be made to suit your own particular tastes.  I've seen recipes for caponata that contain twice the amount of vinegar that I use in this recipe.  I don't like it quite that sour.  You can adjust the vinegar to your liking and the sugar to your taste.  Some recipes use red wine vinegar and some use white wine vinegar.  Either one is fine. 

You can serve this hot (which I like) but it is traditionally served at room temperature.  It lasts for several days in the fridge after you make it.

The traditional way to make it is to cube the eggplant and fry it.  I like roasting eggplant instead, because it soaks up so much oil and roasting it is a lot easier. Salting the eggplant beforehand is important because it helps to collapse the air holes that are in the eggplant, making it like a sponge.  That is why it soaks up so much oil.  

Caponata has capers, olives and celery added to round out the flavors. In Italy, the olives are totally different than the ones we commonly grew up eating here - the Spanish olives in jars.  Totally different. If you are not a fan of those (like me) and do not have access to great olives (like me), you can use Cento nocellara olives.  They are about the best I have found that comes close to the kind of olives we ate in Italy.  If you live in New York City and can get to Eataly and buy some great olives, I'm jealous.  But where I live, there is just nothing like that. We don't even have a Whole Foods here. So luckily, my neighborhood wine shop carries these great olives.  They're rich and pungent and firm, not soggy. 

This "male" eggplant should have fewer seeds, but this is a myth


The seeds in eggplant are what make eggplant bitter, but how do you choose eggplants with fewer seeds?  There is a myth out there that there are female and male eggplants and that the males have fewer seeds.  If you talk to plant specialists, they will tell you that there is no such thing as a male and female eggplant. Supposedly, male eggplants have a bellybutton type bottom and females have a more oblong shape on the bottom.  I bought eggplants which look like the male version and they still had a ton of seeds.  So this method does not work. In fact, I don't know of any sure way to pick out regular eggplants with few seeds (although white eggplant and Japanese eggplant have fewer).  If anyone knows of a reliable way to do this, please leave it in the comments!

 

Sicilian Caponata

for a printable recipe click here

 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 pounds of eggplant, cubed (about 3 medium eggplant)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups crushed San Marzano tomatoes (I use Cento Passata)
  • 1/2 cup green Italian olives (I use Cento nocellara olives), sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 tablespoons capers packed in salt, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar  (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh basil
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, quartered for garnish

 

Instructions:

Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and toss well with the salt.  Let the eggplant sit for about an hour. Do not rinse the eggplant.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Place the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet (I line mine with foil for easy cleanup).  Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and roast for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large frypan, saute the chopped onions in 1/4 cup of olive oil, gently, for about 5 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the olives, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar and gently simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the roasted eggplant and stir until blended.  Add pepper to taste. 

to slice whole olives, remove the pit by smashing the olive
with the flat part of a knife.  The pit will then be easy to remove and
you can slice the olives. 


To serve, add chopped fresh basil and serve with hard boiled eggs and some crusty bread.  Or use as a side dish for fish or chicken.  You can serve this hot or at room temperature.  It lasts several days in the fridge.

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Reader Comments (57)

I love caponata, yours look irresistible!

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCherine

I love caponata and this looks good. try putting raisins in with it. Love it with raisins.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I know that eggplant is like a blotter, but after you salt it to "draw out" the bitterness, if you don't rinse all that salt off (two Tablespoons!) won't the dish be too salty? After letting the salted slices drain for a while, I have always quickly rinsed and thoroughly dried the salted eggplant slices. No problem with soggy eggplant. THEN I cube the slices, mix with olive oil and roast. Is there some Italian trick that allows a dish to contain so much salt and still taste good? With my problems with hypertension,i it would be so unhealthy for me to keep that much salt in a dish.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArlene

II'm going to make this sometime this weekend and let you know how it goes. Looks amazing.

They had pine nuts and raisins in the caponata they served at Next - it was so good. Went very well with the panelle they had (same as they had at Alinea).

-Barry

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarry McCardel

I always find when choosing eggplant, the lighter the eggplant, less seeds...

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Sasso

From The Italian Dish:

Arlene: I know it sounds like the eggplant would end up salty, but it really doesn't. Rinsing it off is a big no-no, because the eggplant then ends up soggy. Some people blot the slices with paper towels. If you have a health problem with salt, though, I can see how you would want to remove it.

September 11, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Oh how I love caponata,it is such a versatile dish and so full of such robust flavor,this is making me very hungry.I also enjoy to have mine served warm especially in the colder months.I love the Nocella/Nocellara olives they are superb,and easily available where I live,I also love the Castelvetrano variety they have such a rich buttery flavor and not salty at all,almost sweet.I feel inspired to whip up some caponata.thank you

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertracey

It's a great year for eggplants! These look just like the ones I've been harvesting from the backyard. Our family has always salted the eggplants first (30 minutes & then rinse & gently squeeze them). Last week, I made my Sicilian grandma's version of this which she called "caponatina" (little caponata?). Her recipe uses honey instead of sugar & also includes sweet peppers. I used fresh tomatoes which means it had to cook down a bit longer. I didn't have wine vinegar so used balsamic instead. My mom says Grandma even used to cure the green olives herself way back when. I used the big pitted Sicilian-type green olives. Also added just a little dried spearmint which we use a lot in our cooking. (Not sure if that's regional to where my family came from on la bella isola -- an Arabic influence...) Yes, crusty bread & I like some chunks of aged provolone with it as well. A glass of chilled vino bianco doesn't go wrong either ;-)

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia

What a delicious recipe! I am heading to the farmer's market and will definitely pick up some eggplant and make a lovely caponata. Thank you for the fantastic instructions.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristin McNamara Freeman

Fantastic post; I've always wanted to make this!

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKalyn

Arlene: The salt draws the liquid out, and the liquid draws the salt way as is drains.

~Inez

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterInez

We've been growing eggplant for over 30 years and this is what we've found.
The older the eggplant, the more seeds develop. The seeds make the eggplant heavy. Buy firm, large, lightweight eggplants and you'll have a better than average chance of finding the kind you're looking for.

Another great way to use eggplants is to halve them, roast them cut side down, scoop out the flesh leaving a 1/2 inch border. Mix the cooked flesh with a little olive oil, an egg, garlic, capers, chopped tomatoes and some grated romano. Fill the shells with the mixture, top with a combo of panko and grated parmesan and bake at 350° about 30 minutes or till golden brown. Serve with marinara sauce on the side.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrancesca

I've talked seen many people skip the part about the eggplant and the salt. I think that's a critical step with getting the bitterness out of it.
But thanks to Francesca's comment, I'm now going to pick lighter eggplants to have them be less bitter.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeatrice

I dislike the taste of capers very much. What do you think I can substitute for them and get the same taste. What do you think of adding Kalamata in lieu of the capers.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLena

@Arlene - don't use table salt - it does harm you. (Here in NZ it is iodized) I use rock salt or Celtic Sea Salt which is full of minerals - about 82 of them I'm told - which your body definitely needs.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally

My grandmother introduced me to this dish many years ago and I haven't had it in ages. Your recipe sounds amazing and I love how you've made it into a meal with the bread and eggs- adding the ingredients to my grocery list now! Good tip for slicing the olives as well. Many thanks for another fab recipe!

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly P

Eggplants are one of my favorite vegetables, and caponata probably one of the best way to prepare it... Lovely meal, beautiful photography and amazing artwork (I visited your web page The Artwork).

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarina

We still have a few eggplant in the garden unless this current heat way in San Diego kills them. This recipe sounds perfectly yummy. Can't wait to make it. Thanks for the lighter/fewer seeds comment too.

September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

OK, Elaine...When you said your local wine shop carried the right olives I was SURE you meant Dusty's, but no luck. Where can I score these?

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbeth

From The Italian Dish:

Beth: Have you been to Vine and Brew beer and wine shop on Jolly Road? It's just west of Okemos Road, near the Taco Bell. Awesome shop!

September 21, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Mmm, looks delicious! I love caponata. My favorite way to way to eat it is to spread it on bread dough and add some cheese and bake it like a pizza.

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

OMG..... how have I never made this before? Made a batch last week & had it (as you suggested) with some nice crusty bread & hard boiled eggs for our picnic lunch on our canoe trek. A nice creamy gorgonzola was a great accompaniment. Thanks Elaine!

September 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

I could just eat the whole plate.

First, the seeds don't make eggplants bitter. Age makes eggplants bitter. As the eggplant matures it develops seeds and the flesh gets more dense, the skin gets tougher, and the eggplant tastes more bitter.

How the eggplant is grown also affects bitterness. Eggplants starved for water will be much more bitter than those grown with sufficient water.

Different types of eggplant are less bitter than others. The least bitter type that I know of is the Sicilian type which is small, almost round, with pink / white coloring. The most bitter are the long thin, almost black Thai eggplants.

You can tell young eggplants from old eggplants in the store by look and feel. Young eggplants are glossy, not dull and will have a little give when you gently squeeze them, almost spongy. They should feel light for their size. Old eggplants will have a dull finish, feel solid, and will not give at all when you squeeze them.

And there is no such thing as a male or female eggplant. All eggplants develop from flowers that have both male and female parts. The size of the blossom scar is dependent on environmental conditions, not sex.

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I've made 3 different recipes for caponata and yours is, by far, the best! Thanks for the recipe and your beautiful site.

February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCath

"Baby" Eggplant have fewer seeds, but are not always easy to find and are more expensive.

March 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

An update on this recipe and my previous comment. I always sweat eggplant slices with Kosher salt, which is my cooking salt. (Table salt is just that: for the table although I also use it as a baking ingredient.) Lately for Caponata I've paper-toweled the salted eggplant slices dry without rinsing. You're right, Elaine. Not soggy at all! Next I plan to try "baby" eggplants and use without salting. This is a wonderful recipe with great texture and a terrific combination of flavors...my friends love it too, even carnivorous ones. I've even served it as a sauce for pasta (medium shells) with lots of Romano cheese. To quote someone to whom I gave the recipe... "divine!" :)

March 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArlene

Thanks to Joe and his post of Feb 20th. Finally a sensible explanation about eggplants. While shopping in the produce section, I would always forget which eggplant was male and which was female. And then I'd forget which one had more seeds or less seeds. So I would buy one of each and was never satisfied with the results. Now I have a another way to shop for eggplant. I'll let you know how it turns out.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill from Brooklyn

Would this be considered an Italian chutney? It sounds really good!

June 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoc Simonson

For the first time in my life I had to dump a potful of cooked meal into a disposer. I am very sad. If you do not rinse egg plants they are too salty (inedible).

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue

I have grown eggplants for a few years and in my experience young eggplants that are just ripe and eaten right away have by far a smaller amount of seeds compare to those that are picked up later and wait in the kitchen. Eran

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEran

i have realized that if you buy thinner eggplants than rounded oned you will find less seeds!!

August 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterirene

Made this; my first time making Caponata. Delicious. I used kalamata olives, mostly 'cause I had some on hand to use up - and added a bit of red pepper flakes to the onions when sauteing the onions. Delicious; thanks for the recipe!

September 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Just got done eating it! You are a God! I'm in heaven!
One of my favorite food as a child. Me and my sister would fight over
The cans when my grandma brought some. Thank you so much!

September 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteranthony

I so enjoyed the "delectable" introduction to your recipe - I have the ingredients and I'm off to the kitchen to prepare and impress my friends on National Braai Day (Heritage Day in South Africa) 24 September!

September 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSu

I just made a batch of romanian style "Zacusca", similar to caponata, only that I roast the eggplants and red peppers, and after mixing the ingredients, I canned them. In winter we eat them straight from the can.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterangela f.

try honey instead of sugar, it is what Sicilians use. also San Marzzanos work wonderful.
a nice touch, add a little sun dried tomato, chop up some escarole, use balsamic vinegar instead.
small chunks of provolone if you can get it..nice crusty bread. don't forget the Chianti
Ciao!'

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRocco

I am making this caponata as one of my appetizers at my daughter's engagement party. As I will be passing it around to the standing guests, I wondered if anyone has suggestions as to what I could serve it on, other than bread. I am also making a lobster dip, which I will serve on thinly sliced baguette, so didn't necessarily want to serve two starters on bread.

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterColette

Caponata is so versatile and I like serving it as an appetizer, side dish, or "relish" on meat. Because of this , I've tried quite a few recipes. This one is, by far, my favorite! A reader requested suggestions for serving it with something other than bread. Crispy spears of Belgium endive, well drained English cucumbers, or jicama come to mind.
Enjoy!

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCath

Collette, I hope you don't mind a comment. If Belgium endive is easily accessible rand not too pricey and it's not too large a party, I would reverse the issue. Lobster dip is a treat & elegant and would be perfect on the endive spears, and the heartier caponata on a baguette. It's the people, fun and memories that are most important...and dessert.

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCath

Collette, I hope you don't mind a comment. If Belgium endive is easily accessible and not too pricey and it's not too large a party, I would reverse the base layer. Lobster dip is a treat & elegant and would be perfect on the endive spears, and the heartier caponata on a baguette. It's the people, fun and memories that are most important.......and dessert.

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCath

If you can pick an eggplant that is half to three quarters grown then they will have fewer seeds.

March 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGinny

Great recipe. I add sliced artichoke hearts (frozen) and boil the celery in a half cup of water. I use the water from the celery to rinse the can of tomatoes. My Mom would brown each ingredient first and layer them in a bowl not stirring. The last ingredient the crushed tomatoes would top the dish. Still not stirring to give the ingredients time to marinate. We always served this room temperature. When we went to a small town near Mt. Etna,, where my Mom's family came from, we were served capanota and if I closed my eyes it was how my Mom's recipe tasted. Recipes don't change that much in Sicily.

April 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterValleymom

Excellent recipe ,as always you male it look as delicious as it will taste.
As to bitter, good to know the source [age not seeds] , however although the salt on the surface will draw out water thru the pores , that, as an explanation, assumes that the water is the carrier of the bitterness. A far more likely explanation can be found in Marine and Navy coffee...salt is always added to the brew,,,it tricks the taste buds into misreading the bitterness which is there to male it more palatable.
Arlene,
If I understand your 2nd post you are still slicing / then salting and cooking / and the diceing is that
correct ?

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwes

I just finished making this for a party this evening. I followed the recipe except I used a bit more olive oil when roasting the eggplant. The finished dish is wonderful - and definitely not too salty. I can't wait to share it with my friends!

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

I place the salted eggplant on paper towels and toss or turn (if sliced) often so the water is absorbed. Can be left overnight to dry found this when fried or roasted absorbed less oil.

Enjoy

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnita

Toss the eggplant and catch it..Compare with another of similar size..The lighter will have fewer seeds

August 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine

I love eggplant and NEVER bother with the salting and letting it drain part-that is a completely useless step as far as I am concerned. If eggplant is cooked according to instructions, it should not be bitter. Caponata is just an Italian version of ratatouille, with some mild variation in prep and ingredients. PS There is almost nothing that a good splash of Marsala cannot cure-so I leave out the sugar as well and use a sweet Marsala!

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCookiesMommy

I am polishing off the last of my caponata as I type! I first had caponata at a fancy Italian restaurant (as a vegan, it was one of my only options), and I loved it, but it was entirely too salty (I ate my leftovers with plain white rice, which helped). Still, I wanted to recreate it at home, and after scouring recipes, this is the one that sounded most like what I had eaten. I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I only used 1 tbsp of sugar, and I mixed white vinegar and marsala cooking wine since I didn't have red wine vinegar on hand. It turned out amazing! And not at all too salty! Every bit as good as what I'd had in the restaurant, if not better! I served a trio of caponata, tomato bruschetta, and white bean dip with baguettes to the side, as well as an Italian potato salad. Everything was a hit. This recipe will definitely be going "in the vault"! Thank you!

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I have found that if you microwave the cut up egg plant you can remove a lot of the water with out too much salt (I place the eggplant on coffee filters, use several to absorb the moisture, lightly salt microwave on high for 6 minutes, stir and microwave for 2 minutes) after that you can saulte' in olive oil to brown nicely. I also use this technique when I make pasta all norma. Once you remove excess water, the eggplant doesn't take up so much oil.

March 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbetty

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