Eggplant Caponata is a classic Sicilian dish made with eggplant, olives, tomatoes, celery and lots of other flavorful ingredients. It’s a cooked salad or relish with a sweet and sour flavor, known as “agrodolce” in Italian.
My garden is exploding with eggplant right now, which is funny, because it’s just about the only thing it’s exploding with. Typically this time of year I’ve got tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers and more coming out of my ears. While I’ve gotten a few cukes, a decent amount of chilies, and of course there are still tomatoes, my garden has seen far better seasons. I chalk it up to a few things: a late start, an excitable yet destructive puppy, as well as a complete and utter lack of time and attention.
I always throw a few eggplant seedlings in the ground, but they never usually produce more than a couple fruits each. This year, however, for a reason unbeknownst to me, my eggplants are performing better than anything else in the garden, and better than they ever have. Had I known, I would have planted more than two, but the garden is funny like that. Always full of surprises.
I love eggplant. It’s one of my favorite summer vegetables because it’s so versatile and meaty. You can serve it as a side or make a whole meal out of it, like with eggplant parm or moussaka. In the case of eggplant caponata, it becomes a multitude of different things – a salad, a side dish or a condiment. It’s wonderful slathered on a piece of toasted or grilled bread, as part of a big antipasto spread, as an accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, or eaten hurriedly right out of the container with the fridge door open. As much as I’d like to admit to eating it in a more sophisticated manner, the latter always seems to be the way I enjoy it most frequently.
I first made eggplant caponata when I was a student at LSU and my Italian class threw a “festa”on campus. Most parties in Louisiana revolve around food, so it made perfect sense for this one to be a potluck. I decided to make caponata to honor my Sicilian roots, and I was really proud of how it turned out. I remember standing around the party, when my professor came up to me and said, “YOU made the capponata? It’s WONDERFUL.” She was a tough, brutally honest Italian woman, so hearing this was incredibly validating. I was still a very novice cook at the time, and it gave me a lot confidence in my abilities.
Fast forward a few years and I started making caponata again, but I could never get the recipe quite right. I had zero recollection of how I made it for my Italian class, and I made numerous attempts to get what I was after with little luck. Then one day I saw a recipe for caponata appear on Smitten Kitchen, which had been adapted from a recipe in Saveur magazine. These were both sources that I knew and trusted – so I had to give it a try. Bingo. This was exactly the caponata I’d been searching for.
I made a few of my own changes, naturally. Caponata is one of those dishes that’s made differently by just about everyone depending on their own personal preferences. For me that means adding garlic, no peppers, using garden-grown tomatoes instead of canned, my favorite castelvetrano olives, and a few extra pine nuts. I also opt to bake the eggplant rather than fry it, because it’s a thousand times easier and works just as well.
Caponata captures the essence of late summer so well. It’s sweet and sour – what they call “agrodolce” in Italian, but it’s also salty, smooth, creamy, crunchy, and really just so satisfying in every way. The recipe makes quite a bit, so I like to keep it on hand for easy snacking and jazzing up quick, flavorful meals. This is by no means what I’d consider a difficult recipe – it’s a rustic, peasant dish after all – but it can be a bit time consuming to make. Don’t let that deter you – it’s absolutely worth the effort.
One Year Ago: Maryland Crab Cakes
Two Years Ago: The New York Times Famous Plum Torte / Best Ever BLT’s / Warm Potato Salad with Bacon + Long Hots
Three Years Ago: Salted Chocolate + Caramel Ice Cream Cake (Happy Birthday Blog!) / No-Cook Sun Gold Tomato Pasta / Pickled Shrimp with Fried Green Tomatoes + Creole Remoulade
Four Years Ago: French Tomato + Goat Cheese Tart / Homemade Fruit Fly Trap (so necessary right now!)
Five Years Ago: Pan con Tomate / Beet, Green Bean + Fennel Salad with Blue Cheese + Hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
- salt, to taste
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1⁄4 cup water
- 2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes)
- 1 cup Castelvetrano or other green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1⁄2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1⁄3 cup golden raisins
- 1⁄4 cup capers, drained and rinsed (don't skip the rinse!)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1⁄2 cup roughly chopped basil leaves
- 2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted until golden and cooled
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.* (see note)
- Toss the eggplant with 1/2 cup olive oil, then spread out into an even layer on the sheet pans. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, tossing once about half way through to ensure even browning. In the meantime, prep the rest of your ingredients. Transfer the browned eggplant to paper towels to drain, then sprinkle with salt.
- Heat a medium-large pot or high-sided skillet over medium heat, then add the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil and the onions and celery. Season with salt, then cook until just starting to lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook for one minute more, then add tomato paste and water. Cook until the water has mostly evaporated and the tomato baste starts to caramelize. Add the tomatoes, then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the olives, capers, vinegar, raisins and sugar, then cook until thickened, about another 15 minutes. Be sure to give it a stir every so often to prevent the bottom from burning. Turn off the heat, then add the eggplant, basil, parsley and pine nuts. Stir until everything is well combined, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Let cool to room temperature, then serve.
- Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- *Too hot to turn on the oven? You can pan fry the eggplant instead, which is more traditional (but a lot messier and more work in my opinion).