Caponata is a wonderful Italian eggplant relish that can be used as a spread on bread, a dip for breadsticks, or a sauce to toss with pasta.
There are as many recipes for eggplant caponata as there are cooks! There are two main approaches for preparing it — finely chopped and used as a relish on bread or polenta, or coarsely chopped and served almost like an Italian version of ratatouille.
The only constants in caponata are eggplants, onions, olive oil, vinegar, and some sort of tomato product, either tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes or both.
You can also include pine nuts, raisins, capers, olives, celery, basil, bell peppers, garlic, parsley, and/or oregano. Feel free to play with combinations of ingredients to see what suits your taste!
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 the following caponata recipe is even close to the recipe that the restaurant used, but it is certainly in the right direction.
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.
More Delicious Eggplant Recipes
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 pound, diced
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin 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 tablespoons small capers, drained
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
Toss eggplant with salt, let drain:
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.
Cook onions, celery, garlic:
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.
Sear the eggplant:
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.
Combine with other ingredients:
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.
Let cool, add basil, salt, pepper:
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.