Revised and updated, from the recipe archive. Original recipe posted in 2005. ~Elise
Tucked away in funky Bernal Heights, my old neighborhood in San Francisco, used to lie an Italian trattoria which served exceptional Italian food. The restaurant is long gone, but I still remember fondly the eggplant caponata condiment they served with bread sticks that accompanied every meal. I have no idea if this is even close to the same recipe that the restaurant used, but it is certainly in the right direction.
There are as many recipes for caponata as there are cooks, and there are two main presentations—chopped fine and used as a relish on bread or polenta, or chopped coarse and served almost like an Italian version of ratatouille.
The only apparent constants in caponata are eggplants, onions, olive oil, vinegar, and some sort of tomato product, either tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes or both. Other common ingredients include pine nuts, raisins, capers, olives, celery, basil, bell peppers, garlic, parsley and oregano.
If you don’t eat all your caponata at one sitting, it keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days, and is even better on the second or third day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld.
Our version of caponata is diced fine, like a relish. Serve it on toasted or grilled bread, or with pasta or polenta.
- 1 globe eggplant - about 1 lb, diced
- 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4-6 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 to 3 Tbsp small capers, drained
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 to 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
1 Toss the diced eggplant with about 2 tablespoons salt and put into a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate that just about fits the bowl and weigh it down with a heavy can. Let this sit for 1 hour. Drain the eggplant, rinse with fresh water and pat dry with paper towels.
2 Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery, season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion begins to soften - about 5 minutes. Add the garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
3 Wipe the pan with a paper towel, turn the heat to high and add the remaining olive oil. Let this heat until the oil is nearly smoking. Add the eggplant and spread it out in as thin a layer as you can in the skillet. Let this sizzle for 1-2 minutes before stirring, then let it sit for a full minute before stirring again. Cook like this for 5-6 minutes.
4 Add the onion-celery mixture, the tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, capers and red pepper flakes. Stir well. Add the vinegar, sugar and tomato paste and stir once more. Cook, stirring occasionally until eggplant is very soft, about 8 minutes.
5 Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Mix in the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Caponata can be refrigerated, covered, up to 5 days.