You'll love the combination of savory, sweet, and sour flavors in this creamy eggplant caponata with onions, tomato and olives! A great make-ahead appetizer to serve over crusty bread or use next to chicken or fish!
I'm excited to add one more tasty eggplant creation from Italy: Caponata!
You'll love the loads of texture and flavor in this vegan eggplant salad. And because it tastes better the next day, it's the perfect make-ahead appetizer to serve over crostini or toasted bread of your choice.
What is caponata?
Caponata Sicilian is one of Sicily's essential dishes. Pronounced ka·puh·naa·tuh, it is a vegetarian eggplant salad--more like a relish, really--made of eggplant, onions, bell pepper, celery and tomatoes with briny olives and capers.
There are variations of this tasty eggplant salad. Most are spiked with vinegar. Some call for raisins, which I love and use in this caponata recipe.
For a kick of sweetness, many recipes call for brown sugar, but I use a bit of honey, which is sufficient given the addition of raisins.
If you have them, add some toasted pine nuts at the very end.
Ratatouille vs. Caponata
Some describe caponata as the Sicilian version of ratatouille.
The two may have something in common as both use diced summer vegetables cooked with a bit of tomato. But, to me, ratatouille is more of a saucy stew, and the veggies will vary depending on what you have on hand.
Caponata is more of a salad or an appetizer that is altogether savory, sweet, and sour, thanks to the use of briny olives, salty capers, sweet raisins, and a spike of vinegar.
What you'll need to make it?
The ingredients to make caponata are simple and readily available in most grocery stores. Together, they give this little vegetarian eggplant salad all sorts of beautiful texture and special flavor. Here's what you'll need:
- Eggplant: If you're wondering what kind of eggplant to use for caponata, you can use globe eggplant that is readily available in most supermarkets all year round. 1 large eggplant will be sufficient here.
- More vegetables: 1 yellow onion chopped, 1 red bell pepper cored and chopped, 2 small celery stalks thinly sliced
- Tomatoes: I use 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes here which add a ton of umami with less work.
- Greek olives and capers: these both add a bit of that briny salty flavor that distinguishes caponata from ratatouille or any other eggplant dish really. about ¼ cup pitted green olives and 2 tablespoons of capers.
- Sweet flavor makers: ¼ cup raisins and 2 teaspoons of honey (you can do more honey if you like yours on the sweeter side).
- 1 bay leaf
- Crushed red pepper flakes: I use about ½ teaspoon for an extra kick)
- Vinegar and wine: I used ¼ cup red wine vinegar and ¼ cup dry white wine (any dry white wine you have will do)
- Fresh herbs for garnish: a little bit of parsley and fresh mint, if you have them (2 tablespoons each).
Typically, capontata starts with frying cubed eggplant in a bit of oil until browned. While I love fried eggplant, in this case, I found roasting the cubes to offer the same result. Plus roasting is less hands-on, so I can work on the rest of the ingredients while the eggplant is roasting.
Once the eggplant is fully roasted, it's added to the pan with the rest of the ingredients which have been braising to create a tasty, sweet and sour base or sauce.
How to make caponata?
- Roast the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes and season with salt (I like to let my salted eggplant sit in a colander for a few minutes to sweat out any bitterness, but that is optional. If you do this, just be sure to pat the eggplant dry). Toss the eggplant with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and spread on a large sheet pan. Roast in 400 degrees F heated-oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until fully cooked and tender.
- Cook the onions, bell peppers and celery in a large skillet with a bit of extra virgin olive oil until softened. Season with salt.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to make the sauce base. To the same skillet, add crushed tomatoes, capers, olives, raisins, honey, bay leaf and crushed pepper flakes. Stir in the vinegar and white wine. Stir to combine. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the eggplant. Since the eggplant is fully cooked, simply stir it in with the rest of the ingredients and allow it to cook for 2 to 3 minutes or so together, then finish with fresh parsley and mint.
Eggplant caponata is better the next day, but if you need to serve it on the same day, let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.
You can store caponata in the fridge in a tightly-closed mason jar for 5 days or so, or freeze it for later use. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
- Sheet Pan
- Braising pan or large skillet
- 1 large eggplant 1 ¼ lb or so, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- Extra virgin olive oil I used Private Reserve EVOO
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 1 red bell pepper cored and chopped
- 2 small celery stalks thinly sliced
- Black pepper
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp capers
- ¼ cup pitted green olives roughly chopped
- ¼ cup raisins
- 2 teaspoons honey more to your liking
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp to ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the eggplant cubes with salt (if you have the time, set it aside in a colander to sweat out its bitterness for about 20 or 30 minutes, while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Pat dry with paper towel).
- Place the seasoned eggplant cubes on a sheet pan, add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons or so) and toss to coat. Roast the eggplant in the heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, bell pepper, and celery. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, tossing regularly until softened.
- Add the tomatoes, capers, olives, raisins, honey, bay leaf and crushed pepper flakes. Pour in the vinegar and white wine. Stir to combine. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the roasted eggplant and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes in the sauce. Finish with fresh parsley and mint.
- Cook's Tip: Salting the eggplant and allowing it to sit for a few minutes helps it "sweat out" any bitterness and improves its spongy texture. a If you have the time, leave the salted eggplant in a colander for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- For best flavor: Let the caponata sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving, or store in the fridge overnight and serve cold or at room temperature. I like to serve it with toasted Italian bread such as ciabatta .
- If serving with toasted ciabatta: Slice the bread and brush each slice with a bit of extra virgin olive oil on both sides. Arrange on a sheet pan and toast in your heated oven for about 10 minutes until golden brown (I do this while the eggplant is roasting).