Eggplant caponata is a great Sicilian eggplant recipe that screams ‘summer’!
In Italy, many recipes use eggplant (or baby eggplants), as this vegetable is extremely versatile (can be fried, roasted, grilled, added to sauces, sautéed, etc), can be grown in most gardens (on the boot!), and is quite light, which is a great bonus in hot weather. Other recipes that use eggplant as the main ingredient are pasta alla norma, eggplant involtini, and the very famous eggplant parmigiana (also known as eggplant parmesan).
What is eggplant caponata?
Eggplant Caponata is an Italian sauce that originated in the beautiful 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.
Let's talk nutrition!
Eggplant is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and it is said to help with digestion.
But this is not all; Eggplant has been linked to increased brain function, improved bone and heart health, assistance with cholesterol levels, improved skin appearance… and so many others.
Although eggplant originated in India, it has spread so much across Europe I can’t think of a Mediterranean nation that doesn’t enjoy it one way or another, which is great as this vegetable is considered to be a superfood, being low in calories and rich in nutrients, such as dietary fibers, Vitamin B and potassium.
~~ If you love eggplant and would like a taste of India, try out this EGGPLANT CURRY RECIPE | BAGARA BAINGAN
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.
If possible, use eggplant that is room temperature rather than from the fridge; start by chopping the eggplant in medium-sized dice (between half an inch and 1-inch cubes – 1 to 2.5cm) and drying them in paper towels, as this will allow the eggplant to fry when added to the oil, rather than simmer.
In a large saucepan, add a little olive oil, 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!
How to cook the eggplant in the oven?
Should you prefer to cook this caponata recipe starting in the oven, you can do so by chopping the eggplant and coating the dice in a few tablespoons of olive oil before roasting them in the oven with the sliced onion and thinly chopped garlic; remember to use a non-stick baking sheet so to be able to use less oil and stop the eggplant from sticking to the bottom. Once these are ready, add the roasted eggplant to the saucepan and continue the recipe from the point in which you add the salt, pepper, capers, and chopped olives.
What to serve with eggplant caponata?
This Sicilian version is a great recipe, as it can be served in many ways. It is often enjoyed as a side dish, to accompany a protein, such as meat or cheese, or eaten cold as a saucy eggplant salad.
One of the most satisfying ways for me to enjoy this dish is by using it to dress some pasta and sprinkling some parmesan cheese on top.
A few notes:
Here are a few notes on how to amend this recipe, which is not the traditional recipe, but one that takes into consideration daily values and nutrition for weight loss.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: if possible, use it to cook this Sicilian eggplant recipe as it is typically Mediterranean 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 with the addition of white sugar while simmering the sauce away. It should not require more than half a teaspoon of addition of sugar.
- 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 pine nuts on top of the caponata just before serving.
- Next day: if you can prepare this sauce one day in advance, then go for it, as it is even nicer the next day.
- Main course: Heat 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.
- Light main course: 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 (I like to use Mutti) one preferred to use fresh tomatoes, that is fine. 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:
Eggplant Caponata was first published on 18th December, 2020 and updated on 8th September 2021.
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 Tbsp 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 (I usually put the water in the passata box to ‘clean the tomato out’).
- 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.