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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



  • 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



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 (60)

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

I love Caponatta, I can hardly wait to try this recipe today. Purchased most of the ingredients already, just need to get a couple more to begin. I have been planning this day for months!!! Many, many variables I'm dealing with here. I will also add Kalamata Olives along with the green olives. Here in New Orleans we have a baguette type bread we call the Po-Boy french bread, that would work great to serve it on. The hard boiled eggs looks wonderful served with it.
I'll let you know how I do with making your wonderful recipe! :)

July 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

This is a terrific recipe. I have enjoyed my mother Angela's recipe since I was a child. She adds to the sauteed onions some (not much) red and green bell peppers, celery which you mentioned and also some mushrooms. She also adds several cloves of garlic chopped in half to the roasting eggplant. The red pepper flakes is always a nice little kick. Mom never added sugar or honey,
I think the red bell peppers add enough sweetness for her perhaps and believe it or not just some regular pitted black olives sliced coarsely along with the capers although I will try the Sicilian green olives next time I make it. My mother is very old now God bless her but when I brought her some caponata recently she tasted it and said " molto buona, otimo" and that made my heart soar.

I love topping pizza with caponata and I have also made a nice sort of putanesca over linguine with the last servings. Wonderful dish, wonderful version and God what marvelous memories it always brings.

July 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I made this last summer, but am just getting around to organizing my recipes. I make caponata at least once or twice per year, and we always love it. In addition to several recipes I have saved from the internet, I also have several versions in cookbooks. It's always good, although the taste varies a little. My only major change is to add raisins, as some others mentioned, and to omit celery - the availability of vegetables here is very seasonal, and eggplants and celery just don't coincide. I also generally use our wonderful garden ripe tomatoes - they are so sweet and delicious that no sugar is needed. Even with these changes, we loved your recipes! I always annotate recipes I have made - this one says "WONDERFUL!"

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBetty

I grew up helping out with my Grandfather's huge garden. We had eggplant, lots and lots and lots of eggplant. The ones which were smaller seemed to have the fewest seeds. That's all I know, and I still pick out smaller eggplant whenever I buy them.

August 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Can white eggplant be used. I always make it with purple.

August 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGreat Grandma Dotty

From The Italian Dish:

Great Grandma Dotty: You sure can use white eggplant if you like!

August 22, 2016 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

iam lazy so I modified grandmas recipies. first I fry in a big pot the onions and celery when transparient add tomatoes. fresh or caned. let it cook a bit then add diced eggplant cover don't stir . the eggplant will steam cook. just before eggplant is totally cooked .... remove from the heat. add garlic and vinegar. now ststir the hot mixture . taste the juices ... must be souer to taste. let it sit cooling off removed from heat. wnen cool put in the frig for a day. stir to mix up the mix. after a couple days this will be fabulous and a fast way to cook the componata. the sliced olives arfe a last touch.
when I make this I use 3 or 4 large eggplants and fill up a or 8 quart pan. I usually cover while cooking tokeep the moisture in.... after soaking in the frig for a couple days the mix gets thicker and the eggplant moist and tender. it too soft you cooked it too much.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergiovanni

Made it both ways: with and without salted draining. All the salted draining achieved was to make the caponata too salty.

Likely eggplants have indeed been fine-tuned by science and no longer require salting.

Thanks for the great recipe and tips!

December 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Caponata is also delicious when combined with penne or rigatoni. Molto delizioso!

February 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

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