Caponata is a sweet and sour Sicilian eggplant and tomato relish that is packed with so much vibrant flavour, it is utterly delicious. Its one of those Italian recipes that seems to vary so much from one to the other it’s hard to know what is truly authentic. There is a long list of possible ingredients that could go into it, from anchovies through to raisins and peppers, so I think it’s quite versatile. It can be eaten straight up on bruschetta or toast, and quite frankly its perfect this way, but it can also be stirred through pasta or dolloped into a sandwich.
I found myself with a load of wonderful fresh aubergines/eggplants/brinjals and decided I wanted to make caponata. I also had a few peppers that needed eating and I adore the combination of peppers and eggplant. As I write this story, I’m struck by how many acceptable names this vegetable has and wonder which is best. As a food writer on the Internet, I always think about how my recipe will be received by A) Google, B) people of the USA and C) people of South Africa. I think here, people call it eggplant or brinjal, but I kind of like aubergine. I think in the USA it goes by the name of eggplant so I’m going to use all 3 names in this post.
Back to Caponata. I decided to leave out the raisins as I felt it had enough sweetness with the added sugar. I’m also not the biggest fan of raisins in savoury dishes but I gather this is an authentic ingredient so you can choose. I also decided NOT to shallow fry the aubergine. They are the edible equivalent of a sponge and will soak up as much oil as you give them, so the extra calories are unnecessary for me. There is SO much flavour and sauce happening in the dish, it does not need the oil. I opted instead to oven roast the small cubes in a very light coating of olive oil. I also left off anchovies and this was a tough call. I find anchovies to be one of the most delicious things you can eat on the planet but felt that they would get slightly lost here. The generous amount of salty capers, green olives, basil and tomatoes give it ample flavour. I’m very happy with the outcome of my caponata recipe and the only thing I would change is to reduce the sugar if I was adding this to pasta. For everything else it’s perfect.
Another fabulous recipe idea here would be to make a thin crust pizza or flatbread, or even a quick tortilla pizza, and top it with the caponata. I will be stirring it through grains or couscous, but mostly piling onto to bread. It really develops after a day or two and can happily reside in your fridge for up to a week.
Decide how you want to eat it and then adjust the sugar levels accordingly.
Recipe – makes a nice sized bowl that can serve about 6 people as a starter snack – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 2 large eggplants / aubergines – about 900gms, cut into 2 cm cubes
- extra-virgin olive oil for cooking
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 big red or yellow pepper, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 60ml – 100ml water
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 – 2 Tbsp brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it) - I went with 2
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar +2 Tbsp
- 2 – 3 Tbsp capers, drained ( I liked 3)
- ½ cup green olives, pitted ( I didn't bother pitting them)
- ½ tsp – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
- A small handful basil, roughly chopped (about 7gms)
- 2 - 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 200C /
- In a large baking tray, toss a little olive oil through the chopped aubergines, season with salt and pepper and roast for 40 minutes until starting to crisp up around the sides and cooked through. Give the pan a shake and toss the vegetables once or twice during the roasting time.
- While the aubergines are roasting, heat a glug of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the onions, pepper and celery until soft. About 5 minutes. Add a splash of water if they start to stick. Add the tomato paste and a little more of the water and cook for a minute or two until the water has cooked off. Add the tin tomatoes and sugar and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the vinegar, capers, olives and chilli and cook for about 2 minutes. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir through the cooked eggplant/ aubergines/brinjal. Once coated finish off with the shredded basil leaves. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if required.
- Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with toasted pine nuts. Store in the fridge in a sealed container and the flavour develops over a day or two. This is a fantastic relish to add to all manner of things.
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