Caponata, Eggplant Relish

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.

Caponata, Eggplant Relish Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.

Our version of caponata is diced fine, like a relish. Serve it on toasted or grilled bread, or with pasta or polenta.

Ingredients

  • 1 globe eggplant - about 1 lb, diced
  • Salt
  • 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

Method

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.

Links:

Chunky Caponata - from Bell'Alimento
Caponata Sandwiches with Mozzarella - from The Kitchn
Caponata Pizza - from Stephen Cooks
Zucchini Caponata - from One Perfect Bite
Caponata from Not Without Salt


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13 Comments

  1. Emelie

    I once asked an older woman in Sicily what the real trick to beautiful capontata was. She informed me that to make caponata catanese (the style of catania) one must sauté each ingredient separately. Basically like this:

    Boil chopped celery
    saute julienned/chopped red peppers until VERY soft and skins can be easily removed
    saute onions in a separate pan
    in a large pot with plenty of oil start cooking the eggplant. when the eggplant is soft and cooked through add the strained celery, peppers, onions, tomatoes, capers, rasins, pine nuts. when this has all congealed together add the sugar and vinegar for that sweet and sour combo and cook for a few min longer.

    Let it sit for at least an hour before serving. I usually make it this way and since it is so labor intensive (and oil intensive ;-), I’ll make a ton ton ton and then freeze batches in jars for an easy addition to dinner or a special appetizer for company!
    yummmmmmmmmmmm

  2. Michele

    Again, we have all the ingredients in our home (but I may be a little low on the pine nuts). When we moved to NC almost four years ago it was hard to find eggplant and next to impossible to find fennel (my Italian hubby calls it “finoke” ~ maybe that is why no one at the store understood him). Do you have a preference on the type of eggplant you buy? Skinny or squat? xoxo michele

    Hi Michele, the globe eggplants will work best as the flesh is more firm than the skinny ones and will better hold its shape. ~Elise

  3. Deb in Indiana

    I made this dish today; Elise, thanks for turning me on to a great dish I’d never heard of!

    I had quite a bit of eggplant from the farmers’ market this morning, so I was very happy to see a new idea for it.

    I had all the necessary ingredients, well, almost all: I left out the pine nuts (too expensive for me to have around) and the capers (I’ve left gallons of capers out of recipes in the course of my life…).

    I added three medium sweet peppers (yellow and orange), upped the garlic a bit, and added some anchovy paste (just a little).

    The relish/sauce is delicious on crackers, and even better on bread. I’m sure we will have this often this summer.

  4. B.Cool

    Why do I need a plate weighted down? Is there water in the bowl?

    It’s to help squeeze out the moisture that the salt is releasing from the eggplant, and to help firm up the pieces of eggplant so they don’t completely turn to mush when cooking them. ~Elise

  5. angela

    I made this today as I happened to have all the ingredients at home (it is Sunday!) I substituted small black Provence olives, which I left with the stones in and added some more garlic, it was delicious and had a bit of a punch thanks to the chilli flakes. I had it with some homemade bread and saucisson sec as an evening snack!

  6. Candi

    So, do you cover the eggplant with water after you salt it? Or does the salt extract liquid from the eggplant and that’s why you drain it?

    The salt extracts the liquid from the eggplant. You do not cover the eggplant with water after you salt it. ~Elise

  7. Karen @ Forty Cloves

    My Sicilian grandmother also insists that the veggies be sauteed separately or, she claims, the flavor of the peppers will dominate the dish. Caponata is a great way to use the bounty of summer veggies that are in season right now!

  8. Dasha

    I often make a similar dish, although I never knew it was called caponata. My main three ingredients are eggplant, white onions (lots and lots of it, and I always cook them first, then add to the dish at the very end), and fresh tomatoes. I love the idea of adding peppers and olives! Can’t wait to try again with all the extra spices and herbs!

  9. Brenda

    Due to salt restrictions had to change this up a bit. Totally skipped the salting the eggplant step and simply diced it finely. (I do this on all my eggplant recipes as well.) No capers, but added black olives. Used as a relish topping for purple hull peas. Wonderful.
    Guess this is a Southern recipe now.

  10. Anne

    Do you think it would be possible to can this, or would that damage the flavor? I would love to be able to make a huge batch when all the ingredients are in season this summer.

    Yes, as long as everything (including the basil) is cooked, and you pressure can it. Water bath canning will be insufficient. ~Elise

    • Lucy Liberatore

      Why did you tell “Anne” (she asked if Capanata can be canned. You told her only if she pressure cans it. That is not a definite proof, I have canned Capanata for 30 yrs. in a water bath, as long as you Boil them for 15 strong minutes, the jars are safe at the 15 minutes boil and can keep on a shelf for 1 yr. Lucy

      • Elise

        It depends on your recipe and if there is enough vinegar in it. My recipe is not a canning recipe. I have no idea if there is enough acid in it to safely can it using a water bath. If you don’t have enough acid when you water bath can low acid foods, there is a risk of botulism, which can be fatal, so you don’t want to mess around with risking it.

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