Eggplant caponata is a delight that screams 'summer'! Made with few simple ingredients, this eggplant dish can disguise itself as a sauce to dress pasta or gnocchi, as a side for meat, fish, or eggs, as a topping for crostini, bruschetta, or crusty bread, or as anything you really wish... that's how perfect this dish is!
Eggplant caponata is not the only dish that uses eggplant in Italy, as this vegetable is extremely versatile, tasty, and can be cooked in so many ways, be it fried, grilled, roasted, or in a sauce.
The eggplant dish in this recipe can be prepared in one single large saucepan, and all it requires is eggplant, tomato sauce or passata, salt and pepper, extra virgin olive oil, capers, olives, onion, and garlic.
This delicious rich sauce can be eaten at room temperature or warm, it stores well in the fridge or frozen, and it is a bit of a wild card for a mid-week meal or a Saturday night dinner party with friends.
Eggplant Caponata Ingredients
- Eggplant: The star of the dish! Although any type of eggplant will work, Italian eggplant has a softer pulp and if you have the chance to use it, go for it.
- Tomato sauce: Although I used passata in this recipe as it is my preference, you can also use canned chopped tomatoes instead. Whichever one you use, ensure it has no added flavorings.
- Onion, garlic, salt and pepper: Seasonings and basics for the sauce.
- Olives and capers: These offer the acidic bite typical of the sauce.
- Red Wine Vinegar: OPTIONAL! It really depends on how acidic you like your eggplant caponata and what type of olives and capers you are using.
How to cook caponata?
This Sicilian eggplant recipe is very light and easy to prepare; it can be prepared all in one large skillet or started in the oven and finished on the hob.
To cook it all in one pot, choose a large pan, as you will need plenty of space for the chopped vegetables (although they lose volume as they cook), the sauce, and for stirring the whole caponata.
- Start by chopping the eggplant in medium-sized dice (between half an inch and 1-inch cubes - 1 to 2.5cm) and drying them on paper towels, as this will allow the eggplant to fry when added to the oil, rather than simmer.
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan, and once warm add the eggplant slices, onion, and garlic; mix well and allow these ingredients to cook on medium heat until they turn golden brown and they are nearly fully cooked. This first process should take about 15 minutes, during which you may need to stir the vegetables a few times.
- Next, it is time to season the base with some salt, black pepper, capers, and chopped green olives; these ingredients will bring the famous tanginess to the sauce, but should you prefer to add some extra, you can do so by adding some wine vinegar.
- Once these ingredients are well mixed, it is time to add the tomato passata together with some water; at this stage, mix well the sauce and allow the sauce to simmer on medium-low heat until the sauce is cooked and you reach the desired consistency (about 20-30 minutes depending on preference).
- Once ready, adjust the seasoning and sprinkle some fresh basil on it before serving! Buon appetito!
Eggplant Caponata is an Italian sauce that originated in the Southern region of Sicily, where the sun shines and eggplant and fresh tomatoes can be grown happily. It is a traditional dish and as such, the recipe changes from village to village and from family to family, but it always maintains that one spectacular ingredient.
Other than eggplant, the other ingredients that give this dish its known flavor are green olives, red wine vinegar (which is an added optionally as some acidity is found in the capers), capers in brine, extra virgin olive oil, tomato sauce, and the all-important fresh herbs.
This eggplant caponata recipe is an all-rounder and it works wonderfully with many dishes, such as:
Sauce for pasta or gnocchi
Topping for crostini, crusty bread, bruschetta
Side dish for meat, fish, egg main courses
Starter that is great on its own or with a sprinkle of cheese on top
Lunch box as it can be eaten at room temperature or warm
Eggplant caponata stores well in the fridge in an airtight container for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Once defrosted, ensure it is piping hot throughout before serving.
How to cook the eggplant in the oven?
Should you prefer to cook the eggplant in the oven, this can be easily done.
Start by chopping the eggplant and coating the dice in a few tablespoons of olive oil before roasting them in the oven; remember to use a non-stick baking sheet to stop the eggplant from sticking to the bottom.
Once the roasted eggplant dice are ready, add them after sauteeing the onion and garlic in olive oil, then continue the recipe from the point in which you add the salt, pepper, capers, and chopped olives.
Tips and Tricks for Eggplant Caponata
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: if possible, use it to cook this Sicilian eggplant recipe as it is typically Mediterranean recipe and it will lift and bring together all the flavors.
- Herbs: Should you not have fresh basil leaves then opt for dry or fresh-frozen, but keep in mind that the dry ones may have a slightly different flavor; should you go down that route, add a bit of it at the time and taste in between.
- Tomato paste: should you find your tomato passata or chopped tomato to be too ''watery'' this can be fixed by adding some tomato paste to the recipe. Should you know this in advance, add it to the mixture at the same time as the olives, but should you realize afterward add it at the end and allow it to simmer in the large saute pan for a further 10 minutes until also the paste is cooked.
- Sugar: sometimes tomato-rich dishes are too acidic (a different kind than the vinegar one!) and may need adjusting; you can do so by adding half a teaspoon of white sugar while simmering the sauce away.
- Pine nuts: the original recipe calls for them to be added at the end. To ensure they maintain their crunchiness I'd recommend you toss the pine nuts on top of the caponata just before serving.
- Main course: Heat the oven and add some caponata sauce on top of the pasta al dente, mix well and add to a baking tray with some bread crumbs and parmesan or caciocavallo cheese and bake until the top turns golden brown.
- Bell peppers: add some red bell pepper to the recipe and elevate the taste of the humble eggplant with it. Add it at the same time as the eggplant, together with some sea salt, celery mixture (used in the traditional recipe), and red pepper flakes (if liked), and continue following the recipe as described.
- Plum tomatoes: if instead of tinned tomatoes or passata you prefer to use fresh tomatoes, that is excellent. The preferred type is plum tomatoes as these are ideal for sauce, however other ripe tomatoes will work as well. Follow the recipe until the end as described, then at the time of adding the sauce, add chopped fresh tomatoes and allow them to cook like for the sauce. These will mash and will make a glorious sauce hugging the stewed eggplant.
Bottom line, this glorious eggplant recipe is delicious, light, filling, and satisfying, and once cooked I'm sure you will look forward to enjoying it with a glorious loaf of crusty bread, as this Sicilian Eggplant Recipe is as good as the first time you make it, the last time, a definite evergreen.
If you liked this Sicilian Eggplant recipe, make sure you try these:
The Best Sicilian Eggplant Caponata Recipe
- 1 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 650 g Eggplant cubed - that is the weight of about two medium eggplants
- 100 g Thinly Chopped Onion
- 2 cloves Fresh Garlic Chopped
- Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- 10 Pitted Green Olives
- 1 tablespoon Capers in Brine Drained
- 500 g Tomato Passata
- Basil Leaves to Taste
- In a large frying pan (for which you have a lid), add the oil and warm-up; once warm add the eggplant, onion, and garlic and cook on medium heat until the eggplant cubes are nearly cooked. The time required will mainly depend on the size of the cubes and of the pan; I normally chop the eggplant into half inch (1-1.5cm) cubes and use a pan big enough that it only fills up about 3-4 cm and it takes me 10 minutes approximately on a low/medium flame.
- While the eggplant cubes are cooking, roughly chop the green olives and wash the basil leaves, and set aside.
- Once the eggplant pieces are nearly cooked, add the salt, pepper, capers, and green olives, mix well and then add the passata and one cup of water.
- Bring to the boil, put the lid on, and leave to simmer on low heat for about 25 minutes or until the passata is cooked and you reach the consistency you like.
- Once ready, sprinkle the basil leaves on top, adjust the seasoning, mix and serve.