The perfect blend of sweet and tangy flavors will have you coming back for seconds!
You will love the versatility of caponata di melanzane: it can be a salad, side dish, relish, antipasto, or condiment. Serve with crusty bread for a hearty appetizer or over tahdig rice with crispy naan for a vegetarian/vegan main dish.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
What is Caponata?
Eggplant caponata is a popular and piquant late summer dish in Italy when eggplants (also called aubergine in some countries) are in season, but it's nourishing enough even for cold days.
The first mention of the caponata dates back to the eighteenth century, and it owes its name to the dolphin fish, named capone in Sicily.
The capone fish, the primary and most precious ingredient of this sweet and sour dish, was not within everyone's reach.
The Sicilian people began to replace it with eggplants since they were cheaper, and the caponata Siciliana as we know it today was born.
Why you'll love it:
✔ This pride of Sicilian cuisine is a real crowd-pleaser, and it only takes 15 minutes to make!
✔ It's packed with flavors from around the world: Italian tomatoes, Greek olives, and Persian eggplants.
✔ It's a great make-ahead dish as it is equally delicious warm or cold. It even tastes better the next day!
✔ This eggplant caponata brings a myriad of sensations, aromas, and flavors that are truly inseparable from this dish.
- Eggplant - You can use any eggplant. Typically, Italians use round-oval, purple varieties with a compact texture that are less rich in seeds than the elongated types. Young eggplant will be too firm and bitter, while the older ones will have too many seeds. So it's best to choose a mid-sized eggplant without bruises.
- Tomatoes - Use canned or fresh. If using fresh, remove all the seeds. I prefer organic canned tomatoes to speed up the cooking process.
- Basil - I highly recommend fresh basil! It gives it the Italian essence that dried basil lacks.
- Olives - Sicilians use green olives, but you can use Kalamata if that's what you have. We are looking for that brine flavor; if you don't like olives, don't worry - we will chop them, and you won't even notice them in the dish. This brings us to...
- Capers - If you're not a fan, you can finely chop them, and they will melt into the other ingredients, but try not to skip them!
- Vinegar - Adds the sour note in addition to olives and capers. You can use distilled white vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar if you have to.
1. Dice the eggplant, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside 30 minutes to draw out the moisture.
2. Meanwhile, sauté onions in a saucepan until softened. Add diced tomatoes with juices and cook until it thickens. Rinse eggplant with hot water and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Heat the oil over a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Quickly fry the eggplant pieces until browned. Add the chopped celery and fry for a few more minutes.
4. Pour in the prepared tomato sauce, olives, capers, and salt to taste; mix well and sauté for five minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, basil, and crushed red pepper; lower the heat and simmer for a few more minutes.
📝 NOTE: Looking for the FULL recipe to print? Find the complete list of ingredients and detailed instructions in the recipe card below.
👩🍳 Expert Tips
Three things are essential when making this dish:
- Let diced, and salted eggplant sit for a minimum of 30 minutes to "sweat out" and remove its moisture: it helps with browning later.
- Rinse the eggplant pieces with hot water: it helps remove its bitterness.
- Pat dry them with paper towels: it removes the excess moisture and prevents the dish from turning into mush.
This ancient dish is widespread throughout the Mediterranean and is diverse; Sicily alone has at least 37 versions, one of which involves adding bay leaves, potatoes, or boiled eggs!
If you're feeling adventurous, try some of these regional variations:
- Agrigento: Prepared with green chilies, tomato, onion, celery, green olives, black olives, capers, vinegar, honey, sugar, garlic, oil, chili, basil, pine nuts, and dried raisins (previously soaked in Marsala), this caponata is spicy and sweet.
- Catania: Authentic recipe uses yellow peppers, red peppers, tomatoes, onion, celery, white or black olives, capers, vinegar, oil, salt, and sugar. It is also custom to serve caponata with the San Bernardo sauce, a scrumptious and ancient mixture of almonds, salted anchovies, vinegar, unsweetened cocoa, and orange. Talk about a burst of flavor!
- Naples: The Neapolitan eggplant caponata is entirely different from the Sicilian and has nothing to do with the recipe found in Sicily. It is served on a slice of dry wheat bread soaked in water and seasoned with fresh tomato, garlic, oil, oregano, and basil.
- Trapani: Commonly prepared with peppers, onions, ripe tomatoes, celery, green olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, mint, and toasted almonds.
🍽 How To Serve It
Eggplant caponata is usually served as a classic side dish, but it can also become a finger food or a main dish. Here are some ideas:
- Serve it hot or cold as a dip. Also great as an antipasto in small glasses.
- Make bruschetta - place it on top of toasted bread.
- Use it as a condiment - top grilled fish or baked chicken.
- Serve as a side.
- It's excellent as pasta sauce!
- Serve as relish/salad.
- Serve as a main vegetarian/vegan dish alongside rice and crispy naan or mashed potatoes.
❓ Frequently Asked Questions
Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. You can also preserve eggplant caponata for the winter months: pour the still-hot caponata into sterile, airtight mason jars and keep them in a cool, dark place. After filling, boil the jars (bain-marie) to create the vacuum that guarantees conservation, or place them in the freezer. If you do this, I suggest multiplying the ingredients to make it worthwhile.
Eggplant caponata is freezer-friendly, and it will keep for several months.
No, leave the peel intact but do wash it first.
To cut down on fat, spread the diced eggplant on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover lightly with cooking oil spray. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes or until soft and browned, then add to the prepared tomato sauce.
🍆 Other eggplant recipes to try:
Sicilian Eggplant Caponata
- Large nonstick skillet
- 1 eggplant, medium to large
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 stalk celery , diced
- 1 onion, small, diced
- 16 ounce diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
- ⅓ cup pitted green olives, sliced or chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, whole or chopped
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon sugar, or honey
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonade method)
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Clean and dice eggplant, but do not peel. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside 30 minutes to draw out the moisture.
- In a saucepan, sauté onions with one tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Add diced tomatoes with juices and cook until it thickens.
- Meanwhile, rinse the eggplant with hot water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat the remaining olive and vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Quickly fry the eggplant pieces until browned.
- Add the chopped celery and fry for three more minutes.
- Pour in the prepared tomato sauce, olives, capers, and salt to taste. Mix well and sauté for five minutes. Add sugar, vinegar, basil, and crushed red pepper. Lower heat; simmer for five minutes.
- Caponata is a great make-ahead dish that tastes even better the next day.
- Make sure to resist making this dish before letting the eggplant sit in salt or salted water to remove its bitterness. It will bring out the sweet and nutty flavor of the eggplant, and I promise you won't regret it.
- Serve on toasted bread as an appetizer or a nourishing side with your favorite carbs and protein.
- For the best results, read additional tips in the post above.
- Nutrition information is approximate and meant as a guideline only.